City of Benares: the Children's Ship

large ship at sea

City of Benares in 1936, from Maritime Archives collection, reference MMM.2008.9

The Second World War saw the loss of many vessels and lives at sea but perhaps none so haunting as the ‘Children’s Ship’ City of Benares.

City of Benares was a steam passenger ship built in 1936 on the Clyde in Glasgow for the Liverpool based Ellerman Line. She was the line's flagship - the largest, most modern and attractive vessel in the firm’s fleet.  The ship was used on Ellerman’s City line runs between England and India, hence the ship’s name (Benares, also known as Varanasi, is a city in northern India). 

Torpedoed in the North Atlantic, more than 600 miles from land, with 90 evacuee children on board, 2015 marks the 75th anniversary of her sinking with deplorable loss of life. Find out more about her story here.

In 2013, Derek Bech and Barbara Bech, two of the child survivors of the disaster, visited Merseyside Maritime Museum and were interviewed by staff. Their memories vividly bring to life the excitement of the voyage and the drama and horror of the disaster.  You can listen to or read extracts from that interview throughout this online exhibition.