Dedicated to my Uncle.

Edwin John Angell.

I start this story quoting my new friend in Germany “ There is no better novel writer than life” ....It is true that so many fortunate coincidences have happened to help me trace the story of my Uncle Eddie, who died in world war 2.

This is the story of my Uncle Eddie.

Edwin John Angell 2nd engineer in The British Merchant Marine.

The story starts way back in the 50's My mother always carried in her purse two very small press cuttings featuring a man in uniform, and she told me the story of how his ship the SS. Tairoa was sunk by the Graf Spee, and that he was rescued by the captain of the Graf Spee and taken prisoner, together with all the rest of the Tiaroa's crew, he and many other prisoners stayed aboard the Graf Spee throughout the Battle of the river Plate. This man was her eldest brother. He was released along with all the other prisoners when the Graf Spee entered Montevideo for repairs, he then made his way back to the U.K. He took up a new merchant navy post as an engineer, and was sunk by U Boat action and died in 1942.

The Precious press cuttings.



In the late 50s a film was produced entitled “The Battle of the River Plate”.It was shown in all the local cinemas at the time, and was very popular, from this time my mother cut out a further press cutting. It shows a copy of a photo taken of the Graf Spee in Montevideo, with all of the prisoners signatures, you can see Eddie's name and ship third down from the left. If a good copy of the original exists I would be very pleased to find one. The photographer's father was a Mr W Venables, and was an officer on the ship Trevonian. One of the ships sunk by the Graf Spee.


With so much information available on the net, I tapped my uncle's name into Google and, incredibly up came a film with his name on the credits, I didn't believe it could be the same man.(Although they spelt it with only one L). Searching further for the film, it seemed that many of the real life captains and crew taken prisoner on the Graf Spee, were given bit parts in a feature film entitled “For Freedom” Made by Gainsborough films in 1942. The film is an early version of the 50s film, but blatant propaganda to help keep the British cheerful with the only success so far in the war. The build up and account of the battle is quite accurate however. Much time was spent searching for a copy of the film. I eventually found a copy by joining a film buff's news group and requesting a copy. Eventually one was found. It was a great day when the packet arrived containing the VHS tape copy. Indeed my uncle did appear, although not exactly a star, but he was featured in the film, and did say a few words. If you would like a copy of the film free you can make contact with me via the Yahoo group Graf Spee.

The film fans website, with the full cast and crew of the 1942 film For Freedom .

The Graf Spee Altmark Prisoners and Crew Yahoo group. All welcome to join, all nations.

Making more google searches, The Billy Mcgee website was full of information dedicated to the merchant navy, I emailed Billy, and he did a search of the Commonwealth War Graves Debt of Honour records, and sent to me the following extract. It looks like shortly after making the film he went back to sea, and his ship the “British Consul” was torpedoed by U564. U564 was commanded by one of the most famous and successful U Boat captains. Reinhard Suhren, known as Teddy Suhrin. After many tours of duty Captain Suhrin was assigned to other duties, and a new captain took over U564 it was sunk 13th June 1943. It was Spotted by a British Sunderland aircraft of 228 Squadron. U-564 was sunk the next day by aircraft bombs. Many of the crew were rescued.

links to U 564 sites.

Billy supplied more info on my uncle from the war records office. This was a record of his medals awarded for his war service. The Email from Billy below.

Hello Martin,
Sorry for the delay in replying. Your Uncle was awarded medals as I have found his medal file online, cost £3.50 and this will list all the medals he was entitled to and if he received them.

At the conclusion of World War 2 an initial medal assessment was carried out and medal papers were raised including details of a seaman’s service. These were sent to ports to await the signature of the veteran, as to the accuracy of the information, and then returned to the RGSS. Medals were not automatically issued but had to be claimed by the veteran. These papers are still retained by the RSS but, due to the ravages of time and the process, are not now totally complete. This series contains Database of World War II Medals issued to Merchant Seamen 1946-2002 which is a record of medals claimed and issued. This gives details of the ribbons and medals issued to individual seamen for their service in World War 2. It records each seaman’s name plus, usually, his discharge book number and date and place of birth as well as the medals, ribbons and clasps issued together with a reference to the medal papers file.

The medals awarded are indicated by:

1939: 1939-1945 Star. AT: Atlantic Star. AF: Africa Star. PA: Pacific Star. BU: Burma Star. FR: France and Germany Star. WM: War Medal. IT: Italy Star. CL: Clasp. OLE: Oak Leaf.

A cross (×) drawn through a symbol indicates the issue of that medal; a circle (O) drawn through a symbol indicates that only the ribbon for that medal has been issued. If a cross and a circle have been used then both a medal and a ribbon have been issued. An R sometimes appears and signifies that an application for that medal was reviewed and refused. For those trying to discover whether a medal was issued, or was an unclaimed entitlement, then the RSS should be contacted, before undertaking lengthy searches at TNA, as they have the most up-to-date records.

Service medals awarded to Eddie were, 1939-45 Star. Atlantic Star. and the War Medal.

A portrait of the great ship.

The Tiaroa with steam up.

A photo of the end of the Tairoa taken from the deck of the Graf Spee, sorry unknown photographer. Captain Langsdorff of the Graf Spee had removed the crew of the ship before sinking her.

See below a press cutting passed to me from my friend Michael Pocock in America. The cutting refers to the Tairoa's radio operator Mr Patrick Joseph Cummings. Awarded the M.B.E.

One of my interests is vintage radio, I am a member of ebay, and bid on an old radio valve, the seller lived in Montevideo. after the purchase was completed, I mentioned to him the little I knew of my uncle. He was very interested and told me of all the things going on regarding the sunken ship now lying in the shallow estuary of the river Plate. In 2003 permission was given to raise the Graf Spee. If successful, it will make a super museum display.



To be continued. Any info' on shipmates of the Tairoa or from fellow prisoners at the time will be most welcome.

After a long time searching for info. I have found on Ebay a super old magazine from 1940 It is called "Fan Fare". A film fan magazine, It contained loads of super pictures and detail of the film made of the incident. Below you can see a scan of one of the pages.

Showing from left to right First Officer F.M.(Spud) Murphy, SS Tairoa. Captain Patrick. G. G. Dove SS. Africa Shell. Engineer Walker, SS Tairoa. Captain Charles Pottinger, SS. Ashlea. I have scanned the whole of the magazine and if anyone would like a copy just drop me a line by email.

To Robert and Anne's story of the Altmark incident.

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