Jack Studio Theatre mans Lifeboat revival, Nicola McCartney’s wartime story of courage and friendship

We were not in the business of giving up.

Nicola McCartney’s Lifeboat tells an extraordinary true story of courage, resilience and of enduring friendship that you will want to hear.

It comes to the stage of the Jack Studio Theatre this September and this remarkable tale will leave a lasting impression.

On an ill-fated Friday, September 13, 1940, a ship, The City of Benares, set sail from Liverpool for Canada.

On board were 90 evacuees escaping the bombing and dangers of war torn Britain.

On the night of September 17, in the middle of a storm, the ship was rocked by a huge explosion. It had been tracked and targeted by a German submarine, which launched a torpedo into the liner’s hold.

She sank within 30 minutes. Some children were killed in the explosion, and some were trapped in their cabins. Others died when the lifeboats were launched incorrectly and children were tipped into the sea.

Only 11 of the evacuees survived.

Two 15-year-old schoolgirls, Bess Walder, from London, and Beth Cummings, from Liverpool, spent 19 terrifying hours in the water on an upturned lifeboat, willing each other to survive.

They clung to their overturned lifeboat in the stormy seas, wearing only pyjamas and dressing gowns.

At the time, the sinking of City of Benares was the worst maritime disaster of the war. It is estimated that 258 lives were lost.

Twenty families lost two children or more, one family lost five.

Captain Bleichrodt, captain of the U-boat, was later to be charged with War Crimes but was cleared on the grounds that he could not have known, nor be expected to know, that children were aboard.

The sinking caused such public outrage in Britain that it led to Winston Churchill cancelling the Children’s Overseas Reception Board plan to relocation British children abroad.

Sadly Bess, who married Beth’s brother, Geoffrey, died in 2010 and Beth four years later.

Lifeboat, directed by Kate Bannister, and produced by the same team behind the five star and Off West End nominated productions of Kes and The Wolves of Willoughby Chase, runs at the Jack Studio Theatre, Brockley, from September 19 – October 6.

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