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CBR4 #19: Miracles on the Water: The Heroic Survivors of a WWII U-Boat Attack by Tom Nagorski

In the fall of 1940, London was becoming an increasingly dangerous place to live. The German blitz was raining down destruction on the heads of Londoners, and anyone who could manage to get out of town did so. Many wealthy families moved to their country estates, or at the least sent their children to stay with friends outside the city. Since this was not an option available to the poor, the British government developed a program which would allow children from low-income families to travel to Canada and remain safely across the Atlantic from the hazards of war. Many thought that having their children accepted into the program was a lucky break. Unfortunately for those whose children boarded the S.S. City of Benares, it became a nightmare.

The ship, which carried ninety displaced children (as well as chaperones, crew, and paying passengers, totalling about four hundred people aboard total) was torpedoed by a German U-boat in the middle of the Atlantic, nearly 600 miles from shore. The weather was rough, and despite the best efforts of crew and passengers, most of the lifeboats capsized, dumping adults and children alike into the cold seas. Most were forced to wait almost 24 hours for rescue, clinging to whatever bits of wreckage they could find. One lifeboat, which had been tossed away from the others, drifted for eight days with forty-six passengers aboard, among them seven of the children.

Although the story is extremely sad, as all but fourteen of the children perished, the tale of those who survived is inspirational. The lengths the surviving adults went to in order to save the children were positively heroic, and the actions of the children themselves border on the miraculous.

The book is written extremely well, keeping the story moving along while still incorporating as many facts as possible. The author has done extensive research in order to make everything extremely realistic as well as captivating. He also had a personal connection to the story, as his great uncle was an adult passenger on the lifeboat that was adrift.

I highly recommend this to anyone who enjoys inspirational stories of survival .

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