Service commemorates two WW2 Indian Seamen

A special service organised by Thanet District Council has been held at Margate Cemetery to honour two Lascar Seamen who died upon “S.S. Matra”, which sank on November 13 1939 after hitting a German underwater mine.

Working with the Commonwealth War Graves Commission’s In From the Cold War Project, the council has helped identify two graves in the cemetery which belong to Seaman Kala Mian, who was aged 24, and Cassab Munir, who was aged 41.

It was originally thought that the two men were buried at sea and they were commemorated on the Bombay/Chittagong 1939-1945 war memorial in India. 

Both men drowned along with 13 others when their ship broke in two and sank shortly after entering the Thames Estuary to go towards East India Docks.

A personal account from Peter Piercy who survived the sinking describes in his ‘Maritime Memories’ the fateful night “S.S. Matra” would perish. Piercy wrote: ‘The Lascar seamen suffered the most in the “Matra” sinking, with three being killed instantly and 13 trapped and drowned in their stern quarters.

‘They were screaming for help with their heads stuck out of the portholes, which were too small to pull their shoulders through. The screams of those men could be heard quite clearly, carried over the calm dark waters by the cold night breeze.

‘Nothing could be done for them and they died when the water level reached above their heads inside their quarters.’

The ceremony, which took place on Wednesday 30 November, commemorated the two men and also remembered their fellow sailors who died that night. The service was led by RNLI Chaplain, Brian Sharp, and was attended by RNLI volunteers and representatives from the Commonwealth War Graves Commission and Thanet District Council.  

Cllr Suzanne Brimm, Cabinet Member for Operational Services, said: “We are honoured to be able to commemorate these two Lascar Seaman at Margate cemetery with Commission headstones. It is only right that a longstanding memorial to Kala and Munir will be in place at the cemetery so there is a permanent reminder of their bravery for many years to come.”

This story was featured on BBC South East Today.

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