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Athenaeum awash with Cruel Sea curiosites

Model of historic ship gets new berth

Published on November 28th 2011.

Athenaeum awash with Cruel Sea curiosites

A piece of the historic role played by Liverpool in the Battle of the Atlantic has been given a new home in the splendour of that olde worlde enclave, the Athenaeum.

The members-only club on Church Alley is now home to the literary archive of journalist-come-mariner Nicholas Monsarrat, whose most famous work, The Cruel Sea, was based on his experiences aboard one of the tiny Corvette warships, the Campanula.

So it was during the weekend a ceremony took place to deliver a model of the Campanula to the Athenaeum to add to its newly created Monsarrat room.

 The book was translated into Ealing Studio’s most successful film, The Cruel Sea.  Filmed in  black and white it captured the drama and the trauma of the trans-Atlantic convoys  between the US and Liverpool, feeding the nation at its hour of need.

Based in Liverpool’s Canning Dock, the Campanula was skippered by Liverpool born Capt Richard Case. In the film his role was played by actor Jack Hawkins.

HMS Campanula was a Flower class warship and served in the legendary Capt Johnny Walker’s convoy escort group during the Battle of theAtlantic

Liverpool’s part in WW2 was incredible, with the Blitz, the Atlantic Convoy and that hidden-from-view underground control bunker beneath Exchange Buildings. We should have become home to the Imperial War Museum of the North, but our loss was Salford’s gain.

There to watch the ceremony was Case’s son, Capt Robert Case, who, like his father, is a merchant mariner, in charge of one of the big P&O  Channel ferries.

Richard CaseRichard CaseCuriously,  the Athenaeum’s first president,  when it opened in 1798, was Mayor of Liverpool George Case, a direct ancestor.

They couldn’t exactly allow the model to sail into the Mersey so instead it was conveyed with full Naval honours to Canning Half Tide Dock aboard the patrol vessel HMS Biter.

The model was bought from an antique dealer in southern England by two of the Athenaeum’s members as an addition to its Nicholas Monsarrat archive, donated by his widow, Ann, in 2007.

The two foot six inch-long model of Campanula was handed over to the Athenaeum’s president Robert Owen.


The Case connection emerged after Capt Case’s sister, Dr Jocelyn Gohary, who comes from Liverpool, but now lives in Egypt, tracked down the Monsarrat archive.

Dr Gohary was researching her family links with the novelist and on her annual visit to her home city this summer was able to view his material at the Athenaeum.

Capt R CaseCapt R CaseCuriouser again, Nicholas Monsarrat’s father, Sir Keith Monsarrat, a leading surgeon, was a member of the Athenaeum when his son was born in 1910 at the Rodney Street family home.

Pamela Brown, Athenaeum chief executive, said: “This is a lovely object for the club to add to our Monsarrat archive and we’re very grateful to the two members who acquired it for their generosity.  Given all the amazing coincidences of the story, it’s as though it was meant to happen.”

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