Riverside Museum's delight as public appeal finds Sid's family
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Riverside Museum's delight as public appeal finds Sid's family

18/01/2017
A public appeal to ‘find Sid’ has connected Riverside Museum, Glasgow with the family of the original owner of a watch donated to the museum.  The curator issued a plea for information on Sidney Worrall after she discovered he had not died, as previously thought, on board the ill-fated liner TSS Athenia, which was attacked and sunk the day World War 2 was declared in September 1939.  Sidney’s granddaughter and nephew, who didn’t know each other, both came forward.  They were reunited with the treasured watch at Riverside and introduced to the family who kept it safe for almost 80 years before donating it to the museum.
 
Sidney’s granddaughter Cath Muir was alerted to the appeal by a family friend, she said: “What a surprise it was when by husband told me there was an appeal for information on my grandfather.  I remember him as a child.  He was very badly burned when the Athenia was attacked and had many skin grafts on his face and legs.  He told us that they were his maps of the world. 
 
“After returning from Galway he was pensioned out of the Merchant Navy due to the injuries he sustained, but he returned to sea to serve in the war, he felt it was his duty to do so, but that meant he had to forgo part of his pension.  After the war he worked as a hospital porter in Law Hospital, Lanarkshire and was well liked and well respected in Law Village. 
 
“I am indebted to Gerry for keeping my grandfather’s watch safe all these years and I look forward to bringing my own grandchildren to Riverside to see it on display soon.  Hopefully we’ll even meet Rob if he is over from Canada.”
 
At the same time Dr Ernie Worrall, Sid’s nephew contacted curator Emily Malcolm, who had uncovered the fascinating hidden story while researching the history of the object in preparation for putting it on display in Riverside Museum, Glasgow. 
 
Dr Ernie Worrall added: “I was made aware of Riverside’s search for my uncle Sid.  My father had told me all about him being caught up in the torpedoing of the Athenia. 
 
“A day or so after the sinking my grandmother's neighbour was at the cinema and saw on the Pathe newsreel that night my uncle being landed as a survivor in Galway.  At the end of the picture show she told my grandmother, who at that point would have been unaware whether her son had been killed or had been rescued.  My grandmother hot-footed it down to the cinema just as the manager was closing up for the night and he kindly opened up and re-ran the newsreel for her while she sat in this empty cinema and was able to be reassured that he was indeed alive. 
 
“Not only has Emily’s detective work allowed me to learn more about my family’s history, it has put me in touch with Cath and family I didn’t know before today.” 
 
The timepiece was gifted to Glasgow Museums by Rob Hutchinson in Canada.  On hearing of the news Rob Hutchinson said: “On behalf of my family, I am delighted that Riverside Museum has been able to draw together the two ends of this very long story.  I look forward to one day seeing the Museum's display and possibly meeting Sid's family.  My father would have been so pleased.”
The discovery allows Riverside Museum to complete the jigsaw and tell the whole fascinating story, including what happened to Sidney after he reached Galway in September 1939.
 
Glasgow Museums’ Curator Emily Malcolm said: “Firstly I was extremely surprised to find that Sidney Worrall didn’t die, but I am even more surprised by the response to our public appeal.  We had 16 different people come forward.   
“It is wonderful to welcome Cath and Ernie to Riverside, to show them Sid’s watch and to introduce them to Rob in Canada.  I am so pleased they got in touch.  We are delighted the family is happy to help Glasgow Museums complete Sid’s story and put the watch on display.  It’s good that something so positive has come from such a disaster.”
 
Sidney Worrall had been working as a cook on the Athenia when it was torpedoed.  An explosion ripped through the ship and the force of the blast knocked a huge pan off the stove deluging him with boiling oil.  Rob Hutchinson’s father Gerry Middleton Hutchinson was a passenger on board the TSS Athenia and as the order to abandon ship came he helped to load and then man the lifeboats.  He ended up in lifeboat 6, which also carried Sidney and another badly injured cook.  Gerry did what he could for them over the next few hours, making them as comfortable as possible.  Sid was really ill when he pressed his wristwatch into Gerry’s hand saying “please look after my watch for me”.
 
The rescue ship took survivors from the Athenia to Galway and the two cooks were rushed to hospital.  Gerry assumed that Sid had died and grew to treasure the watch that he had been entrusted with.  He returned home and eventually became a minister of the United Church of Canada.  Gerry died in 2015 and Rob decided to donate some of his Athenia related items to the Riverside Museum Glasgow, which has a display dedicated to the ship and tells the story of the sinking.  The ship had been built in the city in 1923 for the Anchor-Donaldson Line, which later became the Donaldson Atlantic Line. 
Emily Malcolm received the package which included telegrams, letters and Sid’s watch, which was returned to Glasgow for the first time since 1939.  While preparing the items for display she decided to see if she could find out more about Sid. 
 
First she consulted the lists of those killed in the disaster, of merchant seamen who had died in WW2 and at the newspapers of the time which reported the crew and passenger listings.  No ‘Sid’ seemed to have died as a result of the disaster.  Re-reading Max Caulfield’s excellent account of the sinking Emily found a small reference to a cook ‘Sid Wall’ being terribly scaled.    Further research of ‘Scotland’s People’, which details all registered births drew a blank, as did listings of seamen’s tickets issued to merchant seamen from 1919 to 1939.
 
Undeterred the curator continued her search at the City Archives in Glasgow’s Mitchell Library, which is home to an incredible font of resources to aid family history research.    One file, the ‘Athenia Relief Fund’ contains many letters from people injured or who lost family members in the sinking.  One was from Andrew McOnie, the other cook who was injured and landed in Galway.  He wrote a letter of thanks to the fund saying ‘all the Glasgow boys’ were home now with the exception of him and ‘Worrall’ who were still in a nursing home in Galway.
 
Looking for Sidney Worrall instead of Sidney Wall, sure the name had been misheard or wrongly written, proved to be the breakthrough Emily was hoping for.
 
Riverside Museum will now work with Sidney Worrall’s family to write text for the updated TSS Athenia display, which is expected to open in summer 2017.
 
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