THE STORY OF Moulana Cassim Sema

Tej Mangat

As reported by Roony Mangat:

On November 23rd 1942 my mother and grandfather survived the torpedo attack on the SS Tilawa.  Her mother and 3 brothers perished.

My grandfather was taking his family back to Kenya after visiting family in India.

They were sleeping above the cargo hold on wood slats when the first torpedo hit.

They fell into the hold and my grandfather managed to call out and locate my mum. He got her onto a lifeboat and went back to search for the rest of the family but to no avail.

Meanwhile my mum remembers it being a full moon and she could see the ship when the second torpedo hit and a huge plume of smoke before it went down.

She recalls learning that there were passengers that had managed to get into the Iifeboats but we’re not able to lower them into the water and most likely perished.

She was among the survivors that were picked up by the HMS Birmingham the following evening after being spotted by search planes.

The ship continued to circle for a couple of days looking for more survivors. My grandfather went down with the ship after the second torpedo hit, he had been holding onto the railing and sank before able to release himself from it and floated to the surface.  He managed to get on a life raft.  He saw a young girl ( perhaps 6 or so) in the water and pulled her onto the raft.

They drifted for 2 days.  The young girl was hungry and my grandfather managed to scoop a  couple of onions that were floating amongst the wreckage and fed her a slice at a time not knowing when they would be rescued.  He recalled seeing sharks circling the rafts.

They were also rescued by the Birmingham and taken back to India.