THE JOHN DE LA SANTOS STORY
The purpose of this webpage is to learn a bit more about the existence of my uncle John De La Santos.
John was one of the eight surviving children born to John Moses De La Santos and Mary Ann Fox. Johnny was born on the 3rd December 1918. He had six sisters and one older brother James.
The montage created by Paul Adamson, shows the entire family.
The tragedy of this story is that John lost his life at the early age of 24yrs, when he was lost overboard from his ship, the Fort Bourbon in 1943, and was presumed drowned.
The De La Santos family lived in the Pitt Street area of Liverpool.1. This was where all the children were born and brought up and attended St Peters's Catholic School in Gilbert Street. John entered Infant School in 1923. .
In 1926, at the age of eight years he was transferred from the Infants to the Boys School. The second name highlighted on the register is my Brother-In-Law, George Hardiker, who was in the same year as John.
In 1935 at the age of 16yrs John decided to follow his brother, James, into the Merchant Navy. In Oct 1935 at the age of 16yrs John arrived in Boston aboard the vessel Nova Scotia.
Two years later John once again arrived in Boston this time aboard the vessel Dromore.
In 1938 he lost his Seaman’s Discharge Book and had to apply and sign for a replacement. This required a C.R.1. application document to be filled out. The document gives a good description of him.
The document also describes him as a “Sailor”. This means that he was a deckhand. This conflicts with his Fireman and Trimmer rating on his death certificate.
The vessels John served on are identified by their registration numbers. This enables us to identify the ship names and port of registration.
As can be seen the record after 1939 is a blank. He then reappears 42 months later when his death is recorded.
At least 35,000 Merchant Seamen died as a direct or indirect consequence of the WW11. In total 2,426 British registed ships were lost.
From the ship list above, John’s last ship in 1939 was the SS Eskdene. He joined this ship in July 1939 before the start of WW11, (which began on 3rd September 1939).
The voyage was to Archangel,North Russia, for a cargo of timber. By the time that the Eskdene returned to British waters, in December 1939, WW11 had started.
The North Sea between Norway and the coast of Scotland had become very dangerous for merchant vessels due to mine laying and German U-Boats on the look out for targets to sink.
The Eskdene was ordered to Bergen, Norway, to join a convoy that was being formed.
In 1939 Winston Churchill had returned to the Government, as the First Lord of the Admiralty, he reported to the War Cabinet the following.
At the time of the War Cabinet report it was not clear if the Eskdene had hit a mine or had been torpedoed. The following clarifies this question.
It is now established that the Eskdene had been attacked by U-Boat, U-56, which was commanded by Wilhelm Zahn.
The location of the attack 56*30n/01*40n is shown on the map.
The crippled Eskdene was eventually found, by an aircraft, adrift in the North Sea, she was towed into the Tyne and beached. It was only after she had been beached was it confirmed that the ship had been torpedoed.
Click on the link to see the newsreel of the beached Eskdene.CLICK HERE TO VIEW BEACHED ESKDENE
THE ESKDENE CREW
While the search for the Eskdene went on, the crew, after 14 hours adrift in the lifeboat, had been picked up by the Norwegian steamer SS Hild. They were landed in a Scottish port.
The media were attracted to the story of the Eskdene because a John Santos had celebrated his 21st birthday in the lifeboat.
The Liverpool Echo printed the following story.
Other newspapers picked up on this theme and printed the story. The Aberdeen Journal reported.
The story was repeated in the Yorkshire Post.
The Lancashire Evening Post reported the following.
The story even reached Perth in Western Australia.
After he returned home to Liverpool, John, here pictured with his brother Jimmy. His right hand is heavily bandaged in the photo, I assume this was an injury resulting from his activities on the Eskdene.
(The Eskdene was eventually repaired and returned to service in October 1940. Unfortunately she once again crossed the path of a German Sub, U-107, on April 8th 1941, she was hit by two torpedoes. The U-Boat then surfaced and scuttled her by firing 104 rounds into the damaged but still floating steamer. She sank in the Atlantic Ocean, southeast of the Azores. All the crew survived).
(Wilhelm Zahn the U-boat commander was finally promoted to Korvettenkapitän on 1 April 1943. As commander of U-56 he was able to avoid detection by the destroyers surrounding HMS Nelson and came in close proximity to the British flagship, launching three torpedoes against her whilst she was carrying Winston Churchill and the high military command of the British Navy. Following that incident he became widely known as the "Man who almost killed Churchill" amongst the U-boat submariner corps. He died in 1976 at the age of 66yrs.).
On the 21st June 1943, 42 months after the Eskdene event, John was lost overboard from his ship Fort Bourbon, and presumed drowned. This is captured in this excellent tribute, which is another Paul Adamson creation.
When John was lost overboard he was serving on a Fort ship, this is one of 90 ships all named after forts, which were American owned. In 1941 the Roosevelt Government was concerned about the number of British cargo ships being sunk by the German U-Boats. The USA wanted to assist the British but they were concerned about compromising their neutrality. The answer was found in an agreement with the Canadians who would build these ships for America and then charter them to the British.
As stated at the start of this Webpage it is hoped that we achieve some understanding of John De La Santos. In a crises individuals react differently to danger and in doing so reveal a little of their inner self.
When the Captain ordered the Crew of the Eskdene to abandon ship, there were members of the Crew who resorted to praying. On the other hand, John's awareness appeared to have heightened. He demonstrated a presence of mind during this emergency. His description of the actions of the Captain and the other members of the crew speaks to him being clearly aware of what was happening around him. In making his observations he was generous in his praise of their courage.
Then there was his own involvement in the rescuing of four crew members who had fallen into a bunker hold by the explosion.
In my opinion, John comes across as a person who cared about others and was prepared to take that extra step to help his fellow crew members. His courage was there to be seen. A family member to be proud of.