Torpedoed: The True Story of the World War II Sinking of “The Children’s Ship”
GodwinBooks/Henry Holt, October 8, 2019
9781627795548, $19.99 hardcover
In the fall of 2014, my editor, Laura Godwin, took out her phone and showed me a fuzzy photograph of a custom-made lifejacket. That photo started me on an incredible journey researching and writing about the World War II sinking of “The Children’s Ship,” the S.S. City of Benares. After five years, I can say it was an honor to work on it.
Although the story is in many ways a terrible tragedy, in which many innocents die, it is also a story of heroism, altruism, survival and community. It is an anti-war book and a book about how important it is to help others–refugees, victims of war, of tyrants. Although these events took place almost 50 years ago, it is, sadly, quite timely. I don’t want to give too much away, but here’s a bit about it:
September, 1940, England. German bombs were falling on England every night, killing adults—and children. The Blitzkrieg, or “Blitz” had just begun. Hitler was also threatening to invade by land, as he was doing throughout Europe. People with means had already begun sending their children away to live with relatives or friends to keep them safe. But what about people with less money? As Hitler’s tanks rolled through Europe, the British government established a program so parents could apply to send their children away. By early September, 1940, thousands of children had already gone safely—to Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and America (under a separate program).
But the ship that set sail from Liverpool on Friday September 13th had a very different outcome. Four days later, after the Royal Navy Warship escorts had left, a German U-boat torpedoed the ship. There were one hundred children on board, most of them already asleep in their pajamas. A storm was raging, the air was cold, the water freezing, the winds howling, the waves high. The ship sank within half an hour.
This book shows the terrible tragedies, but focuses on the astonishing acts of heroism, courage, and survival. I hope you will love the real people in this true story as much as I do.
Watch a video of an interview I did with School Library Journal about my research for Torpedoed.
Here’s a gallery of images about the research I did for the book. If you click on a thumbnail you’ll be able to see a slideshow of all the images.