South Shields Local History Group

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Logan, Donald Alexander (MN)

Donald Alexander Logan was originally from Scotland he lived at 92 Leighton Street, South Shields with his wife and daughter.  He was a Second Officer on the Empire Lake aged 24, the captain was Richard Sproul aged 37, who was married and lived at 19 Elmsleigh Gardens, Cleadon.

Donald Logan – 1944

The Empire Lake was a cargo steamer of 2,582 tons built in 1941 at West Hartlepool.  On the 28th February 1943 she sailed from the Tyne to Southend, she then sailed to Liverpool.  She left Liverpool on the 4th May and arrived in Durban in South Africa on the 28th June.  On the 8th July she left Durban and proceeded to her next destination, which was to be Aden and the Middle East, she was not escorted by the Royal Navy. 

Empire Lake Movement Card (National Archives)

On the 15th July 1942 at 18.01 when she was about 250 miles from Madagascar she was torpedoed twice by the German submarine U-181 and she sank in 30 seconds!  As the cargo was coal this would have dampened some of the torpedo explosions and prevented immediate deaths.  Many crew may have survived to abandon ship, as accommodation was midships and aft.  Knowing the dangers of the voyage they would have been prepared for instant abandoning of the ship.  But 30 seconds would have been very little time to abandon ship.

There was an account that there were other survivors in water only identified by their calls, whistles and lifejacket lights.  The sea conditions were rough with a swell and a choppy sea.  There were 4 rafts launched and the survivors eventually congregated on one raft, commanded by Donald Logan.

Carley Raft (Wikipedia)

The master, 24 crew members and six gunners were lost.  There were between 35 and 38 crew members of those 15 were aged 21 or less, two were only 17!  These lads would have left school at 14 or 15 and started as ‘cabin boys’.

Donald Logan and the other 6 crew spent 18 days on the raft.  An important point here is that it was a raft and not a proper lifeboat!  These men and boys faced terrible: thirst, hunger, tropical heat, high seas, battling despair, exhaustion and illness.

Carley Raft from the film “In Which We Serve” (IMDB)

The 7 crew members in the raft eventually reached Farafangana, Madagascar but their troubles were not over.

“After being adrift for 18 days this raft eventually reached land and, although when approaching the shore it was smashed in the breakers, the survivors saved themselves by swimming to the beach”

They may have been ashore but they were isolated in an inaccessible jungle.  They spent weeks before they were able to reach a safe haven and notify their loved ones they were alive.

Shields Gazette – 8th March 1944

The newspaper reported
“Mrs Logan received no word of her husband for three months after the torpedoing”

Donald Logan was honoured with the MBE, he didn’t even tell his Wife!

Newcastle Journal – 8th March 1944

On the 7th March 1944.  The London Gazette stated:

“The Second Officer displayed fortitude and endurance throughout.  He took charge of the raft and, by his courage and leadership, set a fine example,”

Donald Logan OBE, London Gazette- 7th March 1944

David Lawson – 13, Ravensbourne Terrace, South Shields a Radio Operator also died on the Empire Lake.

Captain Richard Sproul of Cleadon died on the Empire Lake.  The ship and deceased crew members are commemorated on panels 42 and 43 of the Tower Hill Memorial.

Empire Lake on panel 42 and 43 Tower Hill Memorial

The ex Merchant Navy officer David Fenton commented:

“This was a tale of tragedy, endurance and fortitude on a Shackeltonian scale.”

George David King

George King (Jacqueline King)

George King was a “Greaser” on the Empire Lake, he had the important job of making sure all the machinery in the engine-room and on deck was lubricated.   George was on the raft with Donald Logan and kept a diary of the events.

Greetings from the King, Xmas 1940.

Telegram greetings from the King (Jacqueline King)

George King’s union book

(Jacqueline King)
(Jacqueline King)

Merchant ships were sometimes fitted with small guns.  His Merchant Seaman Gunners’ Course certificate.

(Jacqueline King)

George King’s handwritten diary of the 18 days on the raft (transcript below)

(Jacqueline King)

The rations over the 18 days.

(Jacqueline King)

I have typed George King’s hand-written diary below to make it easier to read (Terry Ford).

Thursday 15th July, 4pm.
2 Torpedoes within 10 secs ship sank in less than a minute.  Dark at 4.45.  Moonlight night. On hatch boards till 9.30 before reaching a raft on which was Logan, Purkins and Denman.  Sub surfaces just after ship was sunk and asked Logan where the ship was bound for, where she came from, what she was carrying and her name.  On hearing the name, he asked if she had another name.  His parting words were “have you got a paddle?” and “we were about 240 miles from the nearest land”.  (While this questioning was going on I was still in the drink, in the wash of the subs screws).  We had an old raft in tow all of us were pretty sick with the salt water we had swallowed, and the raft was bouncing all over the ocean, the sea being very choppy.  Seeing as the ship sunk so quick there was no time to launch lifeboats or rafts.  Luckily some of the rafts broke themselves loose.  No S.O.S. sent out.  Sea choppy, rather cold.

Friday 16th
                Picked up Raglass who was on a broken raft.  All of us soaking wet and cold.  Fixed up windbreaker.  Put a few pieces of wreckage and canvas across the raft making it a bit more comfortable.  Took stock of rations: 6lbs of biscuits, 5lbs of Horlicks Tablets, 5lbs of chocolate and 5lbs of pemmican and about 10 gals of water.  Could have done with more biscuits.  Only other seen on a raft last night was Stafford and Sutton.  A few more seen in the water.  As the sea was choppy the rafts could not get to them and they evidently could not get to the rafts, also the rafts drifted away apart pretty fast.  Rags and I were lucky to reach one.  The best part of the crew must have been caught on the ship as she went under.  3 biscuits, 3 chocolates, 2 spoons of Pemmican and 3 ozs water.  Weather still choppy and rainy.

Sat 17th
                Too wet to sleep last night.  Also colder.  Weather still the same.

Sun 18th
                No sign yet of weather breaking.  All of us have been pretty sick what with the raft bouncing all over the shop and the salt water swallowed on Thursday.

Mon 19th
                All set too to make the raft a bit more comfortable.  Broke up an old raft which we had tied to ours and put the boards across this one making it a bit drier.  Also took on two airtight drums just in case of emergency.  Weather a lot easier and we managed to dry what gear we had on, also dried some of my papers.  Rigged up a rough sail out of a canvas sleeping bag.  Drifting in a westerly direction.  Rainy later on in the day.

Tues 20th
                Few birds around and some black and white fish.  Couple of small water flies seen shimmering on the water.  All of us could have done with more than our 6 ozs of water today.  Weather hot, sea calm a couple of showers.

Wed 21st
                Dry night last night, no rain. Whales seen near at hand.  Started sweepstake as to when we would get picked up or land ashore.  Calm sea and little wind, still drifting westerly.
Thur 22nd
                Short shower last night.  Wind fresher and sea choppier.  Few birds seen, no sign of land, ship or plane.  Good few whales around again.  One passed right under raft.  Capok coming out of one or more, of the drums keeping up raft.  Reckon of drifting about 15 miles a day.  Drew lots for raft utensils, G.R. and J.D. spoons, D.L. dipper, J.P. and self cups.  D.L. has a boil on his arm.  All of us sucking buttons to allay thirst.

Fri 23rd
                J.P. lips broke out in sores.  Good wind and showers.  All caught rain in empty ration tins.  Looks as though J.P. might crack up, D.L. cautioned him for his child like behaviour.  Chest hurts next to heart.

Sat 24th
Wet night last night, sea coming up between boards, stiff breeze, colder than usual.  Paddled raft for a while but it was too tiring.  Just drifted.  Getting very monotonous.  G. R. Cobby, I felt queer about midday, not enough water I suppose.  Couple of boils on hip painful.  Had a little sing along and extra ounce of water.  No wind or rain today.  Sun very hot.

Sun 25th
                Good drop of rain last night we all had a good drink of it all wet but happy.  Few whales around.  No wind today very hot.

Mon 26th
                No rain last night or wind.  Biscuits cut down from 2 ½ to 2.  One day wasted, no wind, calm sea, very little drift.  Rain seen in distance and prepared to catch some in a sheet of canvas, unlucky though it did not come our way.  Filled small water can from big one.  Had extra ozs of water each.

Tues 27th
                Another windless and rainless night last night, slight breeze this morning which died down during afternoon.  Ship was due at out next port today so we might be missed pretty soon.  About 7 gallons of water still left.  Pray that we might get picked up soon or else sight land.  J P upset again this time about lookouts.  Another warm day we just lay around waiting for the next water issue.

Wed 28th
                Slight breeze this morning, less last night.  Rain all around us but none overhead.  All of us mixing our rations in our water.  Big shower of rain this afternoon, all had a good drink and put six pints in large can (5 ¾ gal).  Breeze died altogether this afternoon.  Still drifting westerly direction.

Thurs 29th
                Fair wind and sea last night, no rain.  Grub cut down again, biscuits from 2 to 1 ½ each.  Good breeze today and a bit chilly with spray coming up between boards.

Fri 30th
                Not much wind last night.  Sail tied up as wind was from the west.  More rain this morning, about 4 ozs.  Very slight drift to east.  J.D and D.L reckon they can see land.  I Hope so because I can’t.  Small black and white fish seem to have multiplied.

Sat 31st
                Little wind and calm sea last night, let off two distress signals (1 hand flare 1 rocket).  Sharks around.  Very hot this afternoon.  J.P. had a cry.  16 days adrift and not a sign of a ship or plane or sod all.  Chest still hurts.  Thumb got very painful around the nail looks like a whitlow coming.  No rain very little breeze today.  Good sign of land this evening.

Sun 1st August
                Fair breeze last night.  J.P. delirious, drinking sea water.  All of us had an extra drop of water.  Plenty of land in sight this morning.  Sea and wind against us.  Did some paddling and made a little headway.  Set off smoke bomb and rocket when we saw signs of smoke ashore.  No reply though.  Packed remainder of rations in a canvas bag ready for the beach.

Mon 2nd
                Paddling best part of last night and today.  J.P. cracked up this afternoon.  Smell of wood smoke and vegetation very sweet.  Thrown on the beach just before sunset after being washed off the raft by the breakers.  The one doing the damage being about fifteen feet high.  It just came down on top of us.  Bit of a struggle to get up the beach as we were being dragged back by each breaker as it receded.  Saw native boy who showed us a small village where we made some cocoa with chocolate and Horlicks and was it good.  Our bag of stores was fetched ashore.


14 6oz tins Pemmican: 36 spoonful’s = 6 ozs
5 lbs Horlicks tablets: 480 = 1 lb
5 lbs Chocolates: 80 tablets = 1 lb
6 lbs Biscuits: 46 biscuits = 1 lb

Daily Rations Per Man

Water ozs3348666686871099914166.9 pints
Chocolate553332222222447 : 1 lb
Biscuits33333444444442223460: 12 ozs
Pemmican (spoons)22223333333334444453 : 9 ozs
Horlicks666666666666666666108: 9½ ozs
                  2lbs 14½ oz
Daily rations per man (George King)

George’s mother wrote to the Stanhope Steamship Company asking them to send a letter to her son, the company declined to do this.

(Jacqueline King)
(Jacqueline King)

George left the Merchant Navy after the war in 1946.

(Jacqueline King)

After the war George returned to his former employment as a Cabinet Maker until he was made redundant. He then became a Bank Messenger for NatWest Bank. He died on 28th December 1986.

These are letters sent to George’s mother asking for information about their sons and husbands.


British Newspaper Archives
David Fenton
A special thanks to Jacqueline and Les King
Keith Trotter

Jacqueline King

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