The Zamzam Story - Vignettes

A Baby's Cry

Toddler Mary had the habit of awakening a few minutes before 6:00 every morning.  Her timing was as regular as clockwork, and nothing would quiet her except her bottle filled with milk.  So, morning after morning, Mary's daddy faithfully trudged to the ship's galley, filled a baby bottle with milk and heated it, then brought it back to little Mary.

On April 17th Mary awakened half an hour earlier than usual.  Daddy tried and tried to get Mary to sleep longer, but Mary would not be quieted.  Finally Daddy made the trek to the galley and brought back Mary's filled bottle.  Just a few minutes later, a deadly shell smashed into the galley.  Had Mary awakened at her usual time, Daddy would have been in the galley when the shell hit.  Thanks be to God!  He had spared Daddy through a baby's cry.

 
Mary in 2006 holding doll made
by her daddy on the Dresden.
You may wish to read about her
family's experiences.
Left on the Sinking Ship

A missionary couple had just climbed down a rope ladder with their two-year-old son.  They stepped into the waiting lifeboat and turned to direct their four-year-old Elaine down the rope ladder.  But oh!  The anxious crew grabbed the oars and began to row away from the slowly sinking Zamzam.  Elaine's distraught father and mother looked at their young daughter still standing on the Zamzam's deck.  They begged and begged the crew to wait for Elaine.  But the crew could not be persuaded.

From the depths of their hearts, Elaine's parents cried out to God, asking for His help for little Elaine.  God answered their prayer through a missionary friend, Auntie Gracie, who also was still on the Zamzam.  Gently she took Elaine's little hand and cheerfully stayed by her side.  A few hours later the German crew rescued Elaine and Auntie Grace and brought them to the raider to be reunited with the grateful parents and the rest of the Zamzam passengers.

 
Elaine at the 2006 reunion
Food Memories

Longing for food is a strong memory among the children who were on the Zamzam. Then seven years old, Ruth mentions that her family album has a picture of a huge, huge stack of pancakes. Ruth had made the picture while on the Dresden. "Not surprisingly I was longing for a big stack of yummy pancakes instead of the goo we were given to eat!"

Ruth continues: "Do you remember the can of baked beans someone had? My mother counted out the beans and put the same number in paper nut cups so each child got an equal share. Likewise someone had a package of Jello which was made up and then carefully cut into cubes as equally-sized as humanly possible, so we each got a sweet jewel to savor for a minute. Didn't we once or twice get something that could pass for sandwiches? We took our bowls up on deck and picnicked!  I do remember complaining about the worms (maggots) in the goo. Mother said, 'It's all right. They're cooked!' "

Sometimes aboard the Dresden the children talked about things they missed, hoping the sunken items could be replaced when life returned to normal. They yearned for balls and bats, for dolls, or maybe a bicycle. One day during such a discussion, ten-year-old Laurence turned to his mother: "Mama, do you know what I want most of all when we get to land?" "What is it, Sonny -- maybe I can get it for you," his mother responded tentatively. Solemnly Laurence went on: "I want roast beef, mashed potatoes, and gravy."

The Zamzam children remember the kindness of German guards aboard the Dresden. At every reunion someone recalls a time a guard came on deck with an orange saved from his meal. At least a dozen children soon gathered and watched longingly as the guard deftly peeled the orange and sectioned it--and then gave each child a portion. "We even ate the peeling, and it tasted so good," somebody always adds with appreciation.

Mattress Cover Memory

Not only the food on the Dresden but also clothing shortages bring back memories. At the 2006 survivors reunion, Laurence (pictured with his sister Eleanor) models the cover taken off a bunk bed on the raider. Laurence, then age ten, wore this cover as his only piece of clothing for several days. Having been in the ocean, his soaked clothing had been removed soon after boarding the raider.

In the next few days, as Zamzam passengers searched through the clothing salvaged from the Zamzam, not one item was found which belonged to Laurence! So, eventually Laurence's mother sewed simple, draw-string shorts for her son, using cloth from cut-off trousers a couple men had offered. And for shoes Laurence wore a much-too-big pair given to him by the former captain of the Zamzam. The wonderful spirit of sharing and kindness on the Dresden is remembered. And Laurence adds that the German guards gave him permission to keep the cover!

 
Laurence and Eleanor
at the 2006 reunion
A Timely Promise

As missionary Bill Mundy hurried to his lifeboat that April 17th morning, he clutched his Bible tightly. But alas, as he climbed down the rope ladder to the waiting lifeboat, the Bible slipped from his grip. With a splash the Bible landed nearby, pages open, face down, floating on the surface of the gently rolling water. Moments later, Mr. Mundy reached for his Bible and retrieved it. With astonishment he glanced at the open page. It was the 27th chapter of Acts, where verse 22 promises: "...There will be no loss of life among you, but only of the ship."

God Brings Good from Bad

The eerie sound of the Zamzam's horn awakened Lillian from deep slumber. Rousing her sleeping children, Lillian urged them, "Kiddies, get your life jackets on, and I'll try to find out what is happening." Quickly Lillian opened the cabin door and stepped onto the deck, ankle-deep in cool water. All she could see was water--water everywhere. "The ship must be sinking," Lillian told herself as she hurried back to her six young children.

Lillian was still fastening the children's life jackets when Pastor Guilding rapped at the cabin door, gently reminding Lillian to shut the door more tightly, since the Zamzam was traveling blacked-out. "But what is happening? Why is the horn blowing and the deck flooded?" Lillian asked. Pastor Guilding explained that the horn was sounding because of the fog, and the deck was flooded because the sluggish drains could not handle the sudden downpour of tropical rain. "There is no problem, Lillian."

 
Lillian and her children in 1941

Greatly relieved, Lillian and the children removed life jackets and crawled back into their bunks, thankful that the night’s disturbance had been only a bad scare, not any real danger.

But the following morning Lillian made an urgent visit to the purser's office. During the scare, Lillian had discovered that her family had only six life jackets. They needed one more. Looking at toddler Lois whom Lillian was holding, the purser tried to dismiss Lillian, saying, "If anything would happen, the baby would drown anyhow." But, Lillian was determined. Reluctantly the purser finally found another jacket and handed it to Lillian.

Returning to her cabin, Lillian took out a sewing needle and strong thread. She began mending, not only the jacket just given to her but all the life jackets. They were in terrible condition, full of holes. Shoulder straps and side ties were loose and even missing. Also, Lillian realized that all the jackets were adult size, so she shortened some straps. For most of the morning she sewed and sewed, making all seven life jackets as serviceable as possible. Then she stuffed them under the bunks, hoping she would never again need to see them.

However, a few mornings later, as exploding shells bombarded the Zamzam, those life jackets were hurriedly taken out and again pulled over heads. This time the danger was real. With lights dimming and broken glass scattered across the cabin floor, Lillian tied the life jackets and comforted her children with prayer. Finally the shelling stopped. Lillian led her children to their lifeboat and climbed in. Soon they were lowered to the water, and the strong arms of crew members rowed them away from the crippled Zamzam.

But, help! The lifeboat was filling with water. It was like a sieve! Shrapnel had riddled the boat with small holes. Suddenly the lifeboat capsized and submerged, dumping all its passengers into the South Atlantic Ocean.

Lillian held her baby more tightly as they went down. Soon they all bobbed back to the surface. Coughing and sputtering, the children tried so hard to be brave. Lillian reminded her children again and again that Jesus loved them. God was a very present help.

As she saw the life jackets keeping the children afloat, Lillian felt so grateful for that scare a few nights previously. What if God had not nudged her to mend the life jackets?

"God is often at work in ways we do not know at the time. He can even use a bad experience to bring about good. Thank you, Father."

You may read the story of Lillian and her children in the book Miracle at Sea.  See and hear Lillian on the DVD/video "Zamzam, A Missionary Odyssey".  See "Resources" on this Web site.

Life-jacket Shortage

As the Zamzam pulled away from its berth in Hoboken, New Jersey, it was not carrying sufficient life-jackets.  Cabins should have provided as many jackets as bunks, one for each passenger.    It was not that there were only a few jackets missing -- the shortage was severe.

The shortage was noticed by two of the men passengers, Robert Muir and Curt Morrill.   The situation could have very serious consequences, they knew.   So, when the Zamzam docked at Baltimore, Maryland, these two gentlemen quickly headed to the harbor police to report the shortage. 

The police told Mr. Muir and Mr. Morrill to report back to the police at midnight, saying that, if sufficient jackets had not been secured by then, the Zamzam would not be allowed to leave the harbor the next day.

Midnight came.  There had been no increase in the number of life-jackets.   So the two men quietly returned to the harbor police to report. 

Sometime during the night hours, however, more life-jackets were brought on board the Zamzam, and, as Mr. Muir and Mr. Morrill came out on deck in the morning sunshine, there were the ship's officers, busily handing out  jackets.  Now with sufficient life-jackets, the Zamzam soon sailed again, on her way to Africa.    

In view of what later happened in the South Atlantic on April 17th,  without the observation and persistence of Mr. Muir and Mr. Morrill, the Zamzam story could have been a horror story of the worst kind. 

Thanks be to God for alert and faithful helpers.

Other events in the story are summarized in "Survivors & Reunions".
 

Home Introduction April 17th On the
Prison Ship
The Rest of the Story Internment Vignettes Survivors & Reunions Resources