|On the 23rd September 1940, just 2 days after
the sinking of the Canonesa my grandmother, Anne, was sent a letter
from the the Chief Superintendent of the shipping company, Furness-Houlder
Argentine Lines Ltd. This informed her that the Canonesa had
suffered damage owing to enemy action, but that no other information was
Five days later on Sept. 28th a telegram was sent which stated: "Regret have no news yet will advise you immediately we hear any".
Two days later (30th Sept.) a further letter came from the ship's owners. Still they were "without any information regarding Mr T. Purnell and we have been unable to glean any advices of him from any of the survivors."
No further news or communications was received for a further 17 days. The agonies of suspense and worry endured by my grandmother during this period are hard to imagine. She had to write to Furness-Houlder Argentine Lines to find out precisely what had happened, and on 17th October, 26 days after the sinking, she was sent a letter from the Manager and Secretary of the company. He began by apologising for his Chief Superintendent's Department not advising her of the latest information regarding "the loss of your husband." He then informed her that her husband was on duty at the time of the enemy action, that the Captain's boat had stayed at the scene of the incident for a considerable time in the hope that Mr Purnell could be rescued, but that nobody had seen him and that "we can only presume therefore that he must be considered lost and extend our sincere sympathy to you in your bereavement."
The letter then went on to give details of the "balance of Wages due", how to apply for compensation for lost effects, and information about the Merchant Navy Officer's Pension Fund. A postscript to the letter added: "Since writing the above we have been in communication with the Shipping Federation who advise us that the month's wages payable by them under the Shipwrecked Unemployment Indemnity, unfortunately cannot be made in your case as your husband was not landed as a survivor from the torpedoed vessel."
My widowed grandmother and her son rebuilt their lives away from their home town of Hartlepool. Along with her two sisters, Helen and Margaret, they moved to Wellington in Somerset, England. For many years Anne ran a cafe in Wellington's High Street. She never remarried. Her son, Allan, attended the local Wellington School, and then spent 22 years in the Royal Navy. In 1961 he married Patricia Varaillon of Taunton.
In 1968 Pat and Allan settled in Portchester, Hampshire, near Portsmouth. By this time Anne was seriously ill and moved to a hospital in Portsmouth to be near her only son. She passed away in December 1968.
Tom and Anne's legacy live on in three generations. Pat and Allan had three children, Tom, Sarah and James, and now have six grandchildren, Megan, Jamie, Daniel, Nicole, Matthias and Alexandra.
Following the publication of a short article about this web-site in the Hartlepool Mail in December 1998 I have made contact with two of my grandfather's brothers, Jack and Bill, both well and still living in Hartlepool. Jack is now 93, Bill 87. My Dad and I had the pleasure of visiting them in February 1999. For my father it was the first time he had seen his Uncles for about 40 years, for me it was both my first meeting with them and my first visit to Hartlepool.
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