John Avery Heritage
Member Southampton Heritage Federation
 Sharing local history with the community
In 1967 the Queen Mary set off on her final voyage to Longbeach, California. This watercolour by Eric Crompton records the farewell.A stone carving on the RSH Hospital Chapel.An afternoon stroll on Plymouth Breakwater
John Avery is a Fellow of the Huguenot Society of Britain and Ireland, a member of Southampton
Heritage Federation, City of Southampton Society [Honorary Life Member], Friends of Southampton Old Cemetery [Honorary Life Member],  Friends of  Town Quay Park, National Federation of Cemetery Friends, The Southampton Fryatt Plaque, Devon Family History Society, West Country Historic Omnibus & Transport Trust , Landmark Trust, National Trust
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   Home      The Corfu Incident at Southampton Docks

The Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation ship RMS Corfu was built on the Clyde by Alexander Stephen & Sons Ltd in 1931. She shared the Britain/India / Japan/Australia routes with sister ship RMS Carthage and the RMS Chusan and the RMS Canton until 1939 when she was requisitioned for war service. She served as an Armed Merchant Cruiser until 1944 and was then converted as a troopship. As an Armed Merchant Cruiser she had sailed about 200,000 miles. As a troopship she had sailed 39,161 miles and carried 15,028 troops.

On 10 July 1940 she  was struck in a rain squall at 3am by the aircraft carrier HMS Hermes when escorting a convoy leaving Freetown, resulting in a 30 foot long hole in her starboard and was damaged and abandoned. She was re-boarded later in the day and subsequently taken in a stern first tow by HMS Milford and the tug Dutch tug Donau [1910 vintage] and reached Freetown, Sierra Leone on 13 July. She was beached on 19 August for repairs to her bow and re-entered service in early 1941.

On 8th October 1945 the Corfu arrived at Southampton with more than 1500 ex POW’s who held been held by the Japanese. Relatives and the citizens of Southampton gave the men a magnificent welcome. A newspaper reported that the arrivals comprised men from 50 regiments, also naval personnel, and one member of the R.A.F. As they went ashore they were given a welcome home message from the King and Queen, a bar of chocolate, 20 cigarettes, and a quantity of fruit. Enormous crowds cheered as they filed down the gangway many carrying presents for relatives and toys for children— and were motored to camp, where parents, wives, and sweethearts were admitted. The men looked pale and thin, but were in the highest spirits.

The ship had been designed to carry 177 First Class and 214 Second Class passengers so we must imagine the conditions on board when she was transporting thousands of troops in the war service and after the war until she was returned to her owner in 1947. In April 1946, following a refit she was requisitioned to carry 2698 troops following their leave in the UK from Southampton to the Near and the Far East. An incident occurred on 8th April in Southampton docks when 700 troops walked off the ship in protest of the conditions on board.

A press report reads: On 8th April 1946, 700 troops walked off the troopship Corfu. The men complained of inadequate accommodation, bad messing arrangements necessitating queuing for two hours, the absence of recreational facilities, shortage of washing and lavatory space, insanitation, a shortage of blankets, which meant that some had none last night, and no pay or leave in the transit camp at Southampton for a week before embarkation. After a wharf appeal by the brigadier for an orderly presentation of their complaints, three NCO's accompanied him aboard. The brigadier, after returning from an inspection of the ship to the quayside, told the men that the Corfu was 350 short of its maximum capacity, the number of lavatories was up to scale, and there would be few messing difficulties after the men had settled down aboard. He said that he was unable to alter the arrangements, whereby men for the Far East would be on the lower deck, because of disembarkation requirements for men going to the Near East and Middle East. He said that he would arrange for a pay parade, and extra blankets and a pillow would be issued to each man. When the brigadier tried to continue his address, his voice was drowned by catcalls and shouts from the men. After the Brigadier had addressed them, the men took off their baggage and made their way to the transit camp. An embarkation staff officer told the Press Association: — 'The Corfu has been reconditioned, and is practically a new ship’. About 400 men returned to the Corfuand the remainder were marched to the army transit camp and detained. Also current at the time were reports of overcrowding and insanitary conditions experienced by troops arriving at Southampton on the recently arrived Orion.

The army decided to place 303 of the protesting soldiers onto the Union Castle line Durban Castle on 14th April except 44 were confined and charged by the RMP with indiscipline. The War Office put out a statement that the conditions on the Corfu and the Orion had been greatly exaggerated.

The Secretary for War J.J. [Jack] Lawson MP in the Attlee government ordered an Inquiry into the complaints.

A Court Martial was held selecting the NCO’s involved in the protest and on 15th June the War Office announced a statement:  “A sentence of reduction to the ranks was promulgated against nine army non commissioned officers who were charged with deserting from the troopship Corfu at Southampton on April 8, with intent to avoid sailing”.

The Corfu after a major refit resumed service with P&O to the Far East until the early 1950’s. She then did short cruises and was eventually scrapped in Japan in 1961.

Southampton Repatriation Memorial

A service will be held at St Michael's Church, Bugle Street at 2pm on 27th October 2013 followed by a walk to Town Quay Park where a memorial will be unveilled to mark the return of ex POW's from the Far East by troopships at the end of WWII. The commemoration has been organised by FEPOW History Group. Space at the service will be limited and priority will be given to ex servicemen and families and civic guests. To request a place please register 
snowfall Southampton Old Cemetery courtesy FoSOCSeamen's strike at Southampton 1966Royal Blues at Bournemouth c 1949 photo by Derek Amey local historians Jim Brown and John Avery deep in thought. Image Ann MacGillivray Veronica Tippetts addressing Court Leet Oct 2nd 2012. Image Will TempleJohn Melody Southampton Town Crier at Court Leet 2012. Image Will Temple