Survivors aboard City of Flint wave to photographers as ship approaches Halifax.

Rhoda’s Story, Part 7

In Part 6 of Rhoda’s Story, my grandmother and 235 other Athenia survivors sailed on to Canada aboard an American freighter, The City of Flint, after their passenger ship had been sunk by a German submarine. Early Sunday morning, Sept. 10, a young girl, who had suffered injuries when Athenia was attacked, died aboard the freighter. She was 10 years old. “We all felt terribly sad when we heard it,” Rhoda wrote in her brief memoir. The final installment follows.

Sunday morning [U.S.] Coast Guard cutters arrived and brought supplies and took off the injured and sick. They acted as escorts after that, and it was quite a consolation to us to look out and see them steaming slowly along, one on each side of us. It made us proud that Uncle Sam had sent them out to protect us and bring us in. We knew we were bound for Halifax and it did not improve matters, as we knew Canada had declared a state of war [on Germany].

Among the supplies the Coast Guard cutters brought were some newspapers containing names of the survivors. I noticed a young man scanning the list and asked him if he would see if my name was there, hoping my family had heard I was safe. When I told him who I was and where I was from, I was delighted to learn he was from Rochester, too. He was Mr. John Garland. After that we became good friends.

There was a radio in one of the officer’s cabin and every day we listened to the war news [about] England. One day as I was listening, I heard Bing Crosby’s voice and I cried for joy because then I knew we were getting near home.

Monday night a rumor went around that a submarine was sighted off Newfoundland and the effect that it had on the passengers was awful. One woman had nervous prostration and the doctor had to give her a sleeping pill. Even the sight of the cutters on each side of us didn’t seem to calm their fears. However, that night we had another awful storm, worse than the last, and that seemed to take our thoughts off the submarine. It was another terrifying night, some of us sat up all night and everyone was glad when morning came, and with it the calm.

The next day, Tuesday, an airplane flew over us, taking our pictures for one of the newspapers. We were all thrilled and happy as we felt we were nearer home. We eagerly looked forward to landing and could hardly wait for tomorrow when we should dock. Next day we were all up early and it wasn’t long after breakfast before we could see Halifax. As we came nearer, we heard the booming of guns and discovered it to be a 21-gun salute they were firing in our honor.

The pilot had come aboard and as the ship pulled in, hundreds were on the docks to meet us – newspaper men, cameramen, nurses, doctors, Mounties, telegraph boys, and Boy Scouts – all clamoring to hear our experiences and to help us if possible. We went ashore, and what a grand feeling it was to be on land again. We went through some procedure with the immigration officials then the Red Cross took us over and clothed those that were in makeshift clothes and gave us toothbrushes, combs and toilet articles that we were badly in need of.

There is not much more to tell, our train ride to Montreal was uneventful. We were sorry we couldn’t tip the porters, but we had lost all our personal belongings, money and everything. I guess they understood. At St. Hubert’s Airport, Montreal, I was overjoyed at the news that the Gannett plane would be there to meet Mr. Garland and myself, and in that way we would arrive home much quicker than by train. [Note: Gannett published the Rochester Democrat & Chronicle newspaper]

I can’t describe the joy at meeting my family again, and I think it will be a long, long time before I shall consult another sailing list or book my passage to Europe.

Thomas Sanger View more

Thomas C. Sanger is a journalist and author residing in San Diego, CA with his wife, author Kay Sanger. His forthcoming novel, Without Warning, is a historical novel about the British passenger ship Athenia, which was attacked by a German submarine only a few hours after England declared war on Germany at the start of World War II in 1939.

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