In memory of Evan Basil Davies

Photo of Evan Basil DaviesEvan Basil Davies cheated death in 1941 after escaping from a blazing oil tanker in an open boat, which drifted more than a month before rescue. He died the following year, aged 25, in another torpedo attack.

Evan was born and raised in Swansea. His parents were Evan Beynon Davies and Eileen Davies. His address was Monton Terrace, Danygraig, when he worked as an Able Seaman on the tanker SS British Premier. The ship was bound for Swansea with a cargo of crude oil from Freetown, Sierra Leone, when it joined a convoy on 22 December 1940.

Two days later the ship was hit by two torpedoes from German submarine U-65. The explosions started a fierce blaze and 32 crew members died. Nine others got away in a lifeboat, to be rescued on 3 January. Evan was one of four men who jumped overboard and swam a safe distance from the burning oil on the water. After treading water for about three hours, two of the men boarded the sinking ship and managed to float another lifeboat, but only after jettisoning much of its contents to save weight.

Evan and the fourth man were picked up. Clad only in underclothes, they spent 11 days without food or drink until rain began to fall, enabling them to drink and to moisten ship’s biscuits (from the lifeboat’s emergency provisions) to make them edible. During their 31st day adrift a tired gull settled on the boat. Once plucked, the bird provided a little meat. The men were spotted and picked up by HMS Faulknor on their 41st day in the boat. All four received the King’s Commendation for Brave Conduct.

Evan returned to sea once he had regained his fitness. He left Britain for the last time on 19 December 1942 on the SS Empire Wagtail, carrying coal from Cardiff for Nova Scotia. It was part of a large convoy of 45 merchant ships plus escorting warships. The convoy was attacked when it was beyond the range of Allied air protection. On 28 December, 19 U-boats took part in the assault, sinking the Empire Wagtail and other ships.

Evan’s body was never found. He is commemorated on the Merchant Navy’s Tower Hill Memorial, London.

With thanks to Ron Tovey

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