ID: OOD_006 / Edwin Sparrow

TitleCharles Henry South - lost when SS MEREL was mined 1939
AbstractWW2 Memorial Profiles for Tollesbury

SOUTH, Charles Henry.
Boatswain, S.S. MEREL (London)
Merchant Navy
Died 8 December 1939, Age 58.
Commemorated on Tower Hill Memorial to Merchant Navy and Fishing Fleets

Charles was a Tollesbury man who joined the Merchant Navy at the age of fourteen. His granddaughter Iris Mahoney tells his story:

The village is known as 'The Plough and Sail' because boys from Tollesbury had only the choice of working on the land or going to sea. The men from the South family went to sea.
Charles married his cousin Charlotte Stevens and had seven children. His wife, known as Lottie, ran a corner shop in Stoke Newington, north London whilst her husband sailed all over the world. I have some Imari plates he bought home from China.

After a long career as a sailor, Charles and his family made the decision to sell the corner shop and buy a pub in Aylesbury. They were looking forward to a new life.

Charles had just one last journey to make across the English Channel. He died on his very last day at sea when the SS MEREL was blown up by a German mine off the Kent coast. Of eighteen men on board, there was one survivor. [A newspaper report of the time says there were two survivors, both injured]
On that fateful day, his wife and children all gathered at Tower Hill to welcome him home and celebrate his retirement. Overnight, my mother, his daughter developed a wide, grey streak in her dark hair due to shock. They never took over the pub and Lottie retired to Tollesbury with her sister and two youngest sons who went to work at the Tiptree Jam factory. My grandmother had a photograph of her husband at the wheel of his ship beside her bed for the rest of her life.

I believe the wreck of the ship still lies off the coast at Ramsgate.

Charles was at sea during WW1 - on 1 July 1915 and 19 August 1915 he signed on MALLARD as an Able Seaman. Like the MEREL, MALLARD was owned by General Steam Navigation Co. [ ]
Charles received the Mercantile Marine Medal and the British Medal for his WW1 service - in 1921 his address was given as 47 Wall Street, Balls Pond Road, Islington. [National Archives BT 351/1/132543]

In the early months of WW2, the MEREL was on a voyage from Le Havre to London. She ran into a minefield and struck a mine near the Gull Light Vessel and sank off Ramsgate and broke in two.
MEREL was built for General Steam Navigation Company by Ayrshire Dockyard Irvine in 1925, and was 1,088 tons. Official No. 148680.

The German Destroyers WILHELM HEIDKAMP, HANS LÜDEMANN, HERMANN KÜNNE and KARL GALSTER laid a minefield on the night of the 17th October 1939 and again a second mine barrage on the night of 12th / 13th November 1939 in the area around Thames estuary.

Ships which were sunk by this mine barrage: - British MV BLANCHE (13th Nov), SS PONZANO (13th Nov), SS MATRA (13th Nov), SS WOODTOWN (15th Nov), SS HOOKWOOD (23rd Nov), SS RUBISLAW (28th Nov), SS SHEAF CREST (30th Nov), SS DALRYAN (1st Dec), MV SAN CALISTO (2nd Dec), SS MEREL (8th Dec). Italian SS GRAZIA (19th Nov) Dutch SS SPAARNDAM (27th Nov) Greek SS PARALOS (6th Dec) Swedish SS URSUS (15th Dec)

You can view an image of MEREL at Museum of London

Tower Hill Memorial

Tower Hill Memorial

November 2021 Charles South's background was added, from by Iris Mahoney, Granddaughter.

AuthorEdwin Sparrow
SourceMersea Museum