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'Sheila's project' solves Merchant Navy photograph puzzle in time for Armistice Day

29 October 2020

A Liverpool woman's dying wish to identify a Merchant Navy seafarer who lost his life after his ship was attacked during World War II has finally been resolved by her sister.

The story started nearly fifty years ago when Sheila Hurst found two large, elegantly framed and colour-tinted photographs in the disused cellar of her terraced house in Toxteth, Liverpool.

The two men in the photographs were clearly Merchant Navy seamen, judging by their uniforms.

Sheila kept the pictures during several house moves over the years, hoping to return them to descendants of the two men someday. Following her death at the end of 2019 Sheila's sister, Margaret Farrell, decided to finish the task.

Mrs Farrell placed the images on social media to see if anyone could identify the two men. There were many replies but one person, Allen Gibbons, did recognise them.

The photographs found by Sheila Hurst. From left: George and Peter Gibbons. Image: Margaret Farrell

After meeting Mrs Farrell to see the photographs, Mr Gibbons confirmed that one of the sailors was his father Peter Jerard Gibbons, who had survived the war, and the other, his uncle George John Gibbons, had been killed at sea when his cargo liner ship, the S.S Empire Endurance, was torpedoed by a German submarine in the North Atlantic in 1941. The ship was returning home after escorting a convoy of ships from Liverpool taking supplies to northern Russia. George died from exposure in a lifeboat three days after his ship sank.

George Gibbons is remembered at the Commonwealth War Graves Commission's Tower Hill Memorial in London, along with thousands of fellow Merchant Navy seafarers who gave their lives during World War II.

Sheila Hurst (right) with her sister Margaret Farrell in the 1990s

Ms Farrell said: 'My sister's wish has now been granted. Allen has provided the last piece to the puzzle and I am grateful to him for his patience and co-operation.'

Mr Gibbons, who is planning to have the two pictures of his father and uncle renovated and reframed, said: 'This is an unbelievable moment in my life.

'I cannot thank Margaret and her sister enough for their diligence and patience in re-uniting me with an important part of my family's history, particularly as we approach Armistice Day when we honour the many merchant seamen who lost their lives making sure that much-needed food reached our shores. We should never forget their sacrifices for their country.'


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