Sunday, 12 August 2012

S.S.Menelaus (3)

Menelaus (3) was built in 1923 by Caledon Ship Building & Engineering Co. at Dundee with a tonnage of 10278grt, a length of 490ft 10in, a beam of 62ft 4in and a service speed of 14 knots. Sister of the Calchas she was launched for the Ocean Steam Ship Co. on 1st May 1923 and completed for the Liverpool - Far East service on 11th October. In 1940 she collided with Ellerman's City of London. On Christmas Day 1940 she had a close encounter with the German warship Admiral Hipper in the Mediterranean but was rescued by convoy escorts. In 1942, on 1st May and during a voyage from Durban to Baltimore, she was attacked at dawn by the German commerce raider Michel commanded by Capt. Helmut von Ruckteschell when she was 700 miles south west of St. Helena. Although von Ruckteschell used one of his motor torpedo boats the Menelaus laid a smoke screen and escaped. She was fortunate as von Ruckteschell was ruthless and sank his victims leaving survivors to fend for themselves. After the war he admitted that the Menelaus was the only ship to escape him and he was the only the second German seagoing naval officer to be tried for war crimes. He died in prison while serving a ten year sentence. On 25th June 1952 the Menelaus arrived at Dalmuir where she was broken up by W. H. Arnott Young & Co. Red Duster

Lowry refers to the Menelaus in the 1940 Under the Volcano when Hugh talks about his time on a ship sailing past Sokotra; "It was an English ship, the Helen. Before that, out of Frisco over to Japan I'd been on its sister ship, that was the Achilles. When I was on the Achilles I one saw the Helen coming out of Kelung, Formosa, with the Menelaus after her. The Minnylaws, as the limeys call her."(Pgs. 60-61).

Lowry never sailed on any of the ships nor is it possible to ascertain whether 3 Blue Funnel Line ships would all be in Keelung at the same time though Lowry did sail to the port on board the Pyrrhus in 1927. The symmetry of the 3 ships appears to fit in with Lowry playing with characters from Homer's Odyssey to underpin the drama of the novel.

Lowry also refers to the ship in his poem 'The Lighthouse Invites The Storm'; "Reclaims dividendless Homeric errors: ..Menelaus riding at anchor" (Collected Poetry Pg. 85). Chris Ackerley has identified that Lowry's poem may be an ironic imitation of John Masefield's 'Ships'. (Pg.262).

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