James Alexander Fisher born 1887
Jim was probably given his middle name in memory of his older brother Alexander who died the year before from meningitis.
He did not go into the family business but, like his younger brother Robert, joined the merchant navy as an engineer. There is no record of when they 'went to sea' but by 1911 Peter was the only son left at home.
In June 1919 aged 32, in the Palace Hotel Castle Street Edinburgh, Jim married Euphemia Coulthard the daughter of a tweed mill foreman from Peebles. His address at the time was the Schoolhouse, Eccles, Kelso and he was described as a marine engineer and Sub-Lieutenant, RNR.
Two years later, almost to the day, Effie died giving birth to their only child Barbara. The cause of death was ' heart failure, nephritis, childbirth'. Today we would probably diagnose eclampsia.
Barbara was brought up by Jim's sister Jean.
CR10 identity certificate.
CR10 Central Index cards were kept by the Registrar General of Shipping and Seaman. This special index was created by order of the Defence of the Realm Act 1918. The origins and purpose of this index is unknown.
The four numbers beside his photograph denote the steam ships on which he served between 1919 and 1921:
- December 1919 - 'Chindwin' owned by The British and Burmese Steam Navigation Company, 15 St Vincent St., Glasgow.
- October 1920 - 'Mandalay' owned by The Burmah Steam Ship Company.
- February 1921 - 'Henzada' also owned by The Burmah Steam Ship Company.
- September 1921 - 'Martaban' owned by The British and Burmese Steam Navigation Company, 15 St Vincent St., Glasgow.
All four ships were managed by John Galbraith.
We have no information about Jim's life between 1921 and 1938 but the assumption is that he continued to work as an engineer for the British and Burmese steam navigation Co.. At some stage he joined the ship Kemmendine run by the same company but now under the management of P. Henderson. It was a passenger/cargo steamer of 7,837 tons built in 1924 for the Glasgow - Burma service by William Denny & Brothers, Dumbarton. She was powered by a steam single screw engine giving 14 knots and had accommodation for 139-1st class passengers.
Kemmendine loses its rudder
In February 1938 when off Corsica, heading for Marseilles and in a howling gail, Kemmendine lost its rudder. For 2 days, while they waited for a sufficiently powerful tug, they drifted 140 miles south. Once the gale abated, they were towed 240 miles into Marseilles where the ship was put into dry dock (left) and repaired.
On 13th July 1940 while en route from Cape Town to Rangoon , Kemmendine met the German surface raider Atlantis 700 miles south of Ceylon. Atlantis hearing Kemmendine's transmitter being tuned up and fearing a Mayday call, fired a salvo of shells. One shell holed the hull below the waterline. Another wrecked the radio cabin. The liner stopped and a surrender flag was raised. Unfortunately one of the crew, a window cleaner in peace time, not knowing the ship had surrendered decided to take a pot shot at Atlantis with the gun on Kemmendine's stern. The attempt failed but it resulted in further salvos from Atlantis which killed four Indian seamen and set the ship on fire. She was abandoned and 36 passengers and 107 crew were picked up by the Atlantis. Kemmendine was sunk by torpedo.
On Aug 4th, 264 prisoners were transferred to the Tirrana which had been captured on 10 June. These included the Kemmendine crew aged over 50 (Jim was 53) and all its passengers. With a valuable cargo of wheat, wool and food, Tirrana had been deemed too precious to sink. Next day it sailed for France but on arrival in late September 1940 its entry to the Gironde was delayed by lack of minesweepers to clear a channel and she was torpedoed by HMS Tuna with the loss of 31 Kemmendine survivors. The crew members that survived their second sinking spent the remainder of the war in prisoner of war camps. The younger members of the crew that were not transferred to Tiranna were transferred to the Yugoslav ship Durmitor which grounded near Mogadishu, Italian East Africa. Later refloated, she proceeded to Kismayu where the prisoners were released when British forces captured the town.
The German raiders were far more lethal than the average U-boat. From June 1940 to May 1941, seven German commerce raiders sank one fifth of all British tonnage lost. The German raiders were well armed: all carried half a dozen 5.9 inch guns, 1-2 seaplanes, 5-8 anti-aircraft guns, torpedo tubes, and mines. Clever screens, false deck cargos, fake funnels, even elevators concealed their armaments and gave the raiders the capability to commence firing in seconds with the appearance of innocent, unarmed merchantmen. Crews were handpicked for their cleverness and compatibility. Raider crews would re-configure their ship's appearance on the run, giving hunters the slip, seemingly turning into another vessel. Deceptive tactics were standard procedure: false flags, deceptive signals, radio jamming (to smother warning and distress broadcasts), stealthy stalking, smoke and false fires, crewmen dressed as women pushing baby carriages. Every week or two the raiders would alter their identities; Atlantis, the most famous of the raiders, could successfully imitate 26 other vessels.
Joseph Slavick in The Cruise of the German Raider Atlantis and A V Sellwood in Atlantis The incredible story of Germany's most successful Surface Raider vividly described the sinking of Kemmendine.
Prisoner of War
Having lost his ship by shellfire in July 1940 and survived sinking by torpedo on his way back to Europe as a prisoner of war , it was not until 16 Dec 1940 that the Evening Telegraph and the Dundee Courier announced that he was still alive:
'Mr James Alexander Fisher Aberfeldy announced by German radio to be a prisoner is a son of the late Mr James Fisher Novar Aberfeldy and brother of Mr Peter Fisher Aberfeldy Laundry. Mr Fisher was the first engineer of the British liner, Kemmendine, which, on its way to Rangoon, was reported twenty one days overdue at the end of June and presumed lost.'
Jim spent the rest of the war in Marlag und Milag Nord a POW camp for naval personnel 30 miles south-west of Hamburg and 10 miles north of Bremen.
Each Christmas he would send cards to his sister and brother and these remain in the family. In the photograph below Jim is on the right. The back of the photogragh(right) gives the names of the prisoners, their ships and dates of capture.
Jim received medals for his sevice as a merchant seaman in the second world war. Below is a section of a record from the National Archives showing that he was awarded the Atlantic Star (AT) and the War Medal (WM) - see Robert Fisher for qualifying criteria.
Jim never re-married but shared a home, Barnlee, Lilliesleaf, Roxburghshire, with his sister Jean who was widowed in 1952. They regularly came to Aberfeldy to stay with his brother Peter. Both very warm, gentle and much loved by our family.
He died in a nursing home in 1997, aged 89.
Page last updated - 9/3/17