The Sinking of the R.M.S. Leinster

People on board

Bertie George Panks

PANKS, Bertie George

Bertie George Panks was born in Plomesgate, Suffolk in 1883 to George Simon Panks and Mary Jane Tennant. A sister, Minnie Jane, was born in 1871. The year after Bertie was born George Panks took up the ownership of the Crown Hotel in Diss, Norfolk. George died in 1896 and Mary Jane kept the hotel until 1903. In the 1891 census Bertie was at a Private School in Suffolk, and in 1901, aged seventeen, he was boarding in Stow, Suffolk, giving his occupation as ‘Electrical Engineer’.

In the 1911 census Bertie was living with his mother in Scole, Norfolk and he was then an ‘Automobile Engineers Manager’, probably with the Austin Motor Co. Later that year he married Edith Margaret Ebblewhite in Hackney, London and they had two children, Prudence in 1914 and John Tennant in 1917. In 1918 Bertie Panks was London Representative of the Austin Motor Co. and following a business trip to Ireland in October he was returning on RMS Leinster. His experiences of the sinking were recorded in an interview with The Advocate, ‘The Austin Car Owner’s Journal’.

He recounted how he had been talking to one of the ship’s officers on the deck and they saw the torpedo before it hit the ship. One of his last glimpses of the ship was of a lifeboat, loaded with passengers, mostly women and children, swinging from its davits, about to swing over the ship’s side, before disappearing from sight after the second explosion.

He got over the ship’s side and swam a little away when he was hit on the head by a life raft. About four feet square, it was big enough for Bertie Panks and a steward and lady passenger that he managed to help on. About five minutes later they were all tipped into the water as the sinking ship caused an upheaval in the sea. They managed to get back on the raft along with a soldier, though the latter was washed off again. Eventually they were picked up by a destroyer and though the journey back to Kingstown was unpleasant, with twenty of the rescued in the cramped crew’s quarters, he was full of praise for these crewmen. He was met by a business acquaintance who organised a bed for him in the Royal Marine Hotel. He returned to England the following day with a small party of survivors.

Having survived the sinking of RMS Leinster Bertie Panks did not live for many more years. He died in Hackney in October 1921, aged just thirty-eight. The death notice in the Diss Express finished with the words ‘His end was peace’. His son, John Tennant Panks, enlisted with the Territorials, Middlesex Regiment, and was awarded the Military Cross in 1941 ‘for bravery in Belgium, France, and at the evacuation of Dunkirk’. He subsequently also joined the Austin Car Co., working for them in Canada and America and then, back in England, as Managing Director of Sales.

With thanks to Dr Christopher Browne for The Advocate.


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