The History of Leith

November 17, 2005

SS AGUILA (August 19, 1941) Aguila Wrens

On the wall of Pilrig-St Paul’s Church is a memorial to Madge Barns CPO (Chief Petty Officer) who died during the Aguila disaster of 1941. The story behind the memorial is very touching and is as follows-

Commodore ship of Convoy OG-71 en route to Gibralter from Liverpool. The convoy, consisting of twenty three merchant ships and escorted by six corvettes and two destroyers, was attacked by German submarines while off the south western coast of Ireland. On board the Aguila were twenty-two W.R.N.S., (Women’s Royal Navy Service) the first batch of girls who had volunteered for cypher and wireless duties on the ‘Rock’. Also on board were many servicemen, all naval personnel, taking the Aguila’s complement to 161. Soon after midnight, the U-204 fired two torpedoes at the convoy and hitting the destroyer HMS Bath, which was manned by the Royal Norwegian Navy. She sank within three minutes drowning 83 of her crew, 13 of whom were British. Another torpedo, this time from the U-201, hit the Aguila amidships sending her to the bottom in ninety seconds. There were only 16 survivors, leaving a death toll of 145.

The dreadful, unbelievable truth, was that not one of the twenty two Wren had survived. Captain Arthur Firth and nine others were rescued by the destroyer HMS Wallflower. Six of the crew were rescued by the tug ‘Empire Oak’ but sadly lost three days later when the tug was torpedoed by the U-564. As a tribute to their memory, a lifeboat named ‘Aguila Wren’ was built and launched on June 28, 1952, for the Royal National Lifeboat Institution. (This lifeboat is now in the hands of a private owner, Tim Kirton of Northumberland and is being restored)

Before the Convoy OG-71 reached its destination, eight of its ships had been sunk plus two escort vessels with a loss of nearly 400 lives).

Source-“More Maritime Disasters of World War II”

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