Canavan, William James

Canavan, William James


SS Britannia (Glasgow), Merchant Navy

Died as a result of enemy action on Tuesday 25 March 1941 (aged 47)

No known grave


Commonwealth War Graves Commission

Tower Hill Memorial, London (Panel 19)


William James Canavan was born on 10 March 1894 at 7 Plevna Street, Belfast and he was a son of James and Mary Canavan (nee Convery) who were married on 15 April 1893 in St. Peter’s Roman Catholic Church, Belfast.  James Canavan of 28 Institution Place, Belfast worked as a labourer and he was a son of John Canavan, a labourer.  Mary Convery of 48 Raglan Street, Belfast worked as a printer and she was a daughter of James Convery, a sailor.

William James Canavan’s father, James Canavan, died of tuberculosis in Belfast Workhouse on 18 January 1896 (aged 28).

William James Canavan’s mother, Mary Canavan, died of typhoid fever in Belfast Workhouse on 24 September 1898 (aged 30).

As a child, William James Canavan lived with his widowed maternal grandmother Mary Convery and his aunt Sarah Convery in New Row, Portaferry.  Sarah Convery and Thomas McMullan were married on 31 January 1917 in Portaferry Roman Catholic Church.  Thomas McMullan (aged 33), a seaman from Portaferry, was a son of Thomas McMullan, a seaman.  Sarah Convery, a machinist from Portaferry, was a daughter of James Convery, a seaman.

In the CWGC Debt of Honour Barber William James Canavan is described as a nephew of Sarah M. Mullan of Portaferry.

Described in maritime records as being 5 feet 6½ inches tall with hazel eyes, black hair, a dark complexion and having a scar on his right shoulder, William James Canavan worked as a barber and during the Second World War he served aboard the passenger vessel SS Britannia.  Built by Alexander Stephen and Sons, Glasgow, this ship of the Anchor Line was launched in December 1925.  During the Second World War SS Britannia operated as a troop ship and on 11 March 1941 she set sail from Liverpool with both service personnel and paying passengers aboard.  They were headed initially for Freetown in Sierra Leone.  Some 750 miles west of Freetown, SS Britannia was intercepted and sunk by the German auxiliary cruiser Thor.  There were approximately 500 passengers and crew members aboard and Barber William James Canavan (aged 47) was one of around 250 people who died.  One of the SS Britannia lifeboats reached the coast of Brazil after some 23 days at sea.

In the Register of Deceased Seamen William James Canavan’s last place of abode is recorded as 147 Reidvale Street, Glasgow and he is commemorated on the Tower Hill Memorial in London.