WW2 People’s War

An archive of WW2 memories - written by the public, gathered by the BBC

How the Rees family spent the war

IN last week's column I told the story of young Einon Rees who survived the sinking of the Roxburgh Castle in World War 2.

An elder brother, Evan Alcyn Rees, was already sailing in Union- Castle ship; the main reason for Einon being persuaded to join the' same company. Evan had been serving for some 18 months in the intermediate steamer Gloucester Castle. She had been withdrawn from service in 1938, but re-employed due to the exigencies of war. She was old and slow, and her passenger licence, formerly catering for two classes, had been revoked, thereby reducing her compliment to only 12 berths. In view of what happened this was perhaps just as well.

Service Record



Gloucester Castle




Shelled & sunk




Winchester Castle

Quarter Master

Stirling Castle

Quarter Master


On the night of July 15 1942 she was off Ascension Island when she was attacked without warning by the German raider Michel. The first shell crashed into the bridge killing the radio operators and most of the ship's deck officers. The second demolished the dining saloon and petrol stowed on deck went up in flames.

Within minutes Gloucester Castle sank and of the 154 on board 93 perished, including her captain and all the senior officers but one. Of her 12 passengers only four survived, woman, a girl of 18 and two young boys. Those rescued by the raider were later transferred to a German supply ship, Charlotte Schliemann. In her they were taken to Singapore where some 40 of their number, including Evan Rees, were landed. The remainder were taken on to experience further humiliation in Japan. Back home again bearing the physical and psychological scars of ill-treatment, it was full two years before he was able to resume work with Union-Castle Line, where he was to serve as quartermaster he in the mail ships, with in his younger brother Einon, as a fellow crew member.

The four Rees brothers certainly saw their share of war. We have seen how Einon survived the sinking of the Roxburgh Castle and Evan the shelling and sinking of the old Gloucester Castle. The eldest, Louis, was taken prisoner by the Italians in their Abyssinian campaign early in the war and was later transferred to a German prisoner of war camp. Another brother, Tommy, was captured whilst serving in the RAF.

The dreaded wartime telegrams, “Missing, believed killed in action”, were received by the sorrowing family with regard to both Evan and Tommy and a joint memorial service was held for them. However, they both survived to return home.

They must surely have been vastly entertained on learning of the eulogies delivered at the service — a privilege granted to very few of us!

Evan Alcyn Rees

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