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The book Tomorrow Never Came: The Sinking of the S.S. Athenia by Max Caulfield in 1958 describes the true story of the first act of aggression by Germany against Britain, at the start of the Second World War.
On Sept. 3, 1939, the Athenia was torpedoed by U-Boat 30, “and the ship went to the bottom with the loss of 112 lives, sixty-nine women and sixteen children among them.”
My aunt, Doris Elaine Kent Fox ’40 MS, was one of the survivors who gave a first-hand description of the events between the time the torpedo struck and her rescue the following morning.
“I was in the [tourist] dining room eating a lamb chop. After the awful explosion, I dashed somehow through the door, down a long corridor, to stairs. My cabin was one deck below. I had to get my lifebelt. Going down, I found the stairs broken — clinging to the rail I got down — in pitch black I felt my way to cabin, reached under bunks … and felt the lifebelts. On my way back up broken stairs, I gave one lifebelt away. Feeling my way up, I opened door to deck and it was LIGHT! Barney was there on deck. He saw me and said, ‘Here, get into that boat.’ It was Boat 6, the only other boat (besides 5) which had a motor and shortwave radio. No one knew how to run it, and we had to row all night long.
“When I was the next one up from Boat 6, I was hanging dead weight on the bosun chair. Just then I heard them scream, ‘Hold tight!’ The ocean washed up over my head and washed me off the chair. My grip on the knotted rope held. The lifeboat surged out away, then back in. They jerked one great jerk — and yanked me up just as the boat came crashing into ship — just below my legs. They had pulled me up just in time to keep me from being crushed. On up, to deck’s rail, and there was Capt. Cook. He exclaimed, ‘My god, girl, it’s you!’”
The captain, James Cook, as well as 430 other survivors, including my aunt, were brought to Galway, Ireland, by the Norwegian steamer Knute Nelson.
My aunt was also advertising copywriter at Marshall Field & Co. in Chicago from 1937 to 1939, a freelance writer for New York Herald Tribune and Paris Herald Tribune in 1939 and an advertising copywriter for Carson Pirie Scott & Co. in Chicago from 1939 to 1940. She was a public relations writer for Northwestern University in Evanston from 1963 to 1966 and a member of the American Association of University Women and branch president (1984–86).
She died in Pasadena, Calif., Sept. 22, 2011, at age 94.
Martha Wiedman ’71