RANK: Sailor

UNIT: Merchant Navy - SS Empire Shackleton

DOB:28th May 1922

ADDRESS: Bradbury, Co. Durham


OCCUPATION: Shop Assistant


STATUS: Lost at Sea

DATE OF DEATH: 28th December 1942


MEDALS: Atlantic Star, 1939-45 Star, Defence Medal, Victory Medal

Photo of W. Coward

Walter Coward was the youngest son of Robert and Elizabeth Coward and brother to Jack and was born at Bradbury Co Durham in 1922. The family moved to Northallerton shortly after Walter was born and on leaving school he worked for Barkers the High Street store. In 1938 Walter wanting a more adventurous life joined the merchant navy . He served on various ships, the SS Windsor Castle Moorcock, Empire Attendant and the Empire Shackleton the last two of these ships being American liberty ships.He travelled extensively to the United States visiting many of the ports of the southern states.

Shortly after the outbreak of the war Walter was onboard an oil tanker which was torpedoed but was one of the lucky ones to escape in the life boats.

On the 28th of January 1942 the Empire Shackleton was in convoy north of the Azores en route to the United States when they were attacked by a U-Boats wolf pack. The wolf Packs roamed around in groups shadowing the huge convoys of Allied shipping. The would co-ordinate their attacks and scores of ships would be torpedoed with the loss of thousands of lives. The attack by the U Boats picked out the Empire Shackleton. She was torpedoed and sadly Walter and the entire crew went down with his ship.

The Merchant Navy was the least recognised of the wartime services . More than 25,000 merchant seamen lost their lives keeping the supply routes open. A little known fact about the merchant navy is, whenever a merchant ship was sunk, the moment it went beneath the surface the pay of the crew stopped immediatlely. For men who became prisoners of war or were unable to get back to Britain and back to sea, it meant they received no money what so ever.

The following poem was composed by Walter Coward. He sent a copy of it with his last letter to his Mother almost as if he knew of his coming fate:

I have come through the darkness
Over the swollen waters,
I have moored my raft at last
On the sunlit shore,
But I hear you weeping Oh my sister my brother,
Weep no more.

For how can I go on when your hearts are breaking
There is a golden light on the land ahead,
The winds are cool and sweet
I am strong for climbing
I am not dead.

I shall leave my raft on the old sea's sandy reaches,
I shall make my way along a glittering track,
I shall be weld with joy
Unless your crying should call me back.

Even here it hurts one
O my brother my sister
To know that you are still bound while I am free,
But let one explore unhindered,
The sparkling meadows
Of Eternity.

Walter Coward is remembered on the Northallerton War Memorial the All Saints Memorial Parish Church Memorial and panel No 45 of the Memorial to the Merchant Navy Missing at Tower Hill London which was opened and dedicated in 1955 by Her Majesty the Queen. Walter was aged 22 years.