Eric Unsted

Mary Norris

Eric was born on 04/09/1908 at Whyteleafe, near Croydon in Surrey, the son of Frederick and Emily Ada Unsted, nee Hobbs. He married his first cousin Kathleen Isabel Botting in the 3rd quarter of 1932 at Lewes. Kathleen was very pregnant at the time and their daughter Janet was born around the same date. Kathleen had been born and brought up in West Firle.
In 1939 Kathleen and Eric were living at The Nook in Chailey and Eric was a baker’s roundsman. There is circumstantial evidence to suggest that they may have moved to Kent by 1941 as Eric seems to have enlisted in that county.

SS Benalbanach

Eric enlisted in the Royal Army Service Corps and was placed in 235 Corps Troops Company and numbered T/166840. The role of the RASC was the transport and supply of anything from rations to ammunition, vehicles to aircraft spares.

While we cannot be sure where he was for the rest of his service he is known to have been on the Clyde in late 1942 when the SS Benalbanach was loading military personnel and supplies for North Africa. She was a requisitioned passenger cargo vessel belonging to the Ben line which was based in Leith during peace time. She had been launched in 1940, and this was her second trip to Bone in North Africa carrying the military. She had a crew of 74 men and on board for this trip were 389 men from various RASC units, including 22 from 235 Corps. Her cargo included 800 tons of ammunition from Greenock, 136 vehicles and 68 tons of petrol in addition to other supplies.

The Benalbanach left the Clyde on 24/12/1942, and joined the escorted convoy KMS-6 which contained around 50 vessels. Full details of this convoy are not clear as some vessels left part way through the voyage and others joined. They arrived in Gibralter on 04/01/1943. Some reports suggest they left Algiers on 07/01/1943 and were due at Bone the following day. At around 18:10hrs that day several torpedo aircraft flew over the convoy at very low level. The Benalbanach was hit by two torpedoes, reportedly from the same aircraft, caught fire, blew up and sank within a few minutes. Just 30 men were rescued by other vessels in the convoy.

Eric’s body was not recovered and he is remembered on the Memorial at Brookwood Cemetery on panel 17, column 2. He is included in the Memorial books for Croydon, as he was born there, as well as on the St John sub Castro Memorial and the Lewes War Memorial, where his name is spelt incorrectly.

This page was added on 03/11/2020.

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