Wilson, Garner McCartney

Wilson, Garner McCartney (Garner)

Fireman

SS Empire Heritage (Cardiff), Merchant Navy

Died as the result of enemy action on Friday 8 September 1944 (aged 37)

No known grave

Commemorated:

Commonwealth War Graves Commission

Tower Hill Memorial, London, England (Panel 42)

Newtownards and District War Memorial

BIOGRAPHY

In civil birth registration records it is recorded that Garner McCartney Wilson was born on 17 March 1907 at 26 Whitestar Street, Belfast and that he was a son of William Reid Wilson and Minnie Wilson (nee McMahon).

Other official records indicate that his parents were not married:

  • In 1911 census returns it is recorded that William Reid Wilson (aged 39), a fireman, was living at 51 Gertrude Street, Belfast with his widowed mother, Francess Wilson (aged 76) and his two sons, Joseph John Wilson (aged 14) and Garner (spelt Gardner) Wilson (aged 4).  It is recorded there that William Reid Wilson was single with two children still living.
  • In civil death registration records it is recorded that William Reid Wilson of 51 Central Street, Belfast died of pulmonary tuberculosis on 19 October 1911 (aged 38) and that his brother, John Wilson, was with him when he died.  It is recorded there that William Reid Wilson was married, but this was later amended to ‘bachelor’ on 22 November 1911 by the Registrar, based on a statutory declaration made by his mother, Francess Wilson.

William Reid Wilson was buried in Belfast City Cemetery (Public Ground).

William Reid Wilson was born on 16 November 1874 at 91 Vernon Street, Belfast and he was a son of Joseph and Frances (sometimes Francess) Wilson (nee McCartney, sometimes Macartney) who were married on 30 July 1866 in Moira Presbyterian Church.

Joseph Wilson died of phthisis at 38 Foundry Street, Belfast on 23 January 1883 (aged 42); his wife Frances was with him when he died.

Frances Wilson died of senility in the Union Infirmary (Workhouse Hospital) at 51 Lisburn Road Belfast on 28 February 1919 (aged 77); her daughter-in-law, Jane Wilson (her son John’s wife) of 40 Beechfield Street, Belfast, was with her when she died.

Frances Wilson was buried in Belfast City Cemetery (Public Ground).

In civil birth registration records it is recorded that William Reid Wilson and Minnie Wilson (nee McMahon) had at least five children:

Joseph John (born 13 June 1899 at 26 Templemore Avenue, Belfast)

William James (born 8 January 1901 at 37 Fraser Street, Belfast; died of epidemic enteritis 4 August 1901)

Andrew Macartney (born 11 October 1905 at 22 Cable Street, Belfast; died 27 January 1908 as the result of heart failure accelerated by scalds to his left side caused by the accidental upsetting of a tub of hot water on 25 January 1908; buried in Belfast City Cemetery Public Ground)

Garner McCartney (born 17 March 1907 at 26 Whitestar Street, Belfast)

Patrick (born 30 May 1911 in the Workhouse Hospital at 51 Lisburn Road, Belfast; his father’s dwelling-place was recorded as ‘unknown’)

Garner Wilson went to sea and during the Second World War he served with the Merchant Navy.  In 1942 he served aboard the SS Empire Coral and the SS Empire Fletcher.  On 24 August 1944 he signed on as one of the crew of the SS Empire Heritage sailing from New York to Liverpool.  All the Empire ships were owned by the Ministry of War Transport and in the Register of Deceased Seamen his last place of abode is recorded as 73 Mark Street, Newtownards.

The SS Empire Heritage was completed in 1930 by Armstrong Whitworth and Company Ltd., Newcastle-upon-Tyne as the SS Tafelberg – a South African whale factory ship built for the Kerguelen Sealing and Whaling Company Ltd., Capetown, South Africa.  On 28 January 1941, the Tafelberg was damaged by a mine and beached at Porthkerry in Wales.  A year later the ship was refloated and taken to Whitmore Bay.  She was rebuilt as the steam tanker Empire Heritage by the Ministry of War Transport and returned to service in February 1943.  The SS Empire Heritage was torpedoed and sunk about 15 miles northwest of Malin Head, Co. Donegal when on route from New York to Liverpool in Convoy HX-305.  At around 6.00 am on 8 September 1944 she was struck by a torpedo fired from the German submarine U-482 and an hour later she was hit by a German Navy Acoustic Torpedo (GNAT).  On board the SS Empire Heritage were 73 ‘Distressed British Seamen’ (DBS) – these were survivors of previous sinkings, or men discharged from ships abroad because of illness and being given passage back to Britain.  The rescue ship Pinto stopped to pick up survivors and at around 6.40 am the Pinto was torpedoed and sunk by U-482Pinto survivors were picked up by the trawler HMS Northern Wave and taken to Londonderry.  Thus it was that some of the DBS who had been aboard the SS Empire Heritage survived three separate sinkings during one crossing of the Atlantic.  In addition to its passengers, the Empire Heritage was carrying a cargo of 16,000 tons of fuel oil and almost 2,000 tons of deck cargo.  The deck cargo included several Sherman tanks that are now strewn over the seabed around the wreck site.

Fireman Garner Wilson (aged 37) and Cabin Boy Thomas Crawford Barbour from Bangor were two of those aboard the SS Empire Heritage who were presumed drowned.

Fireman Garner Wilson is commemorated on the Tower Hill Memorial in London and on Newtownards and District War Memorial.