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Heroic tale of wartime seamans 76 days adrift; Amazing tale brought to life at museum.


IT is an amazing tale of courage and endurance.

Now the story of the Liverpool man who cheated death to spend 76 days adrift in a lifeboat is being brought to life at the city's Maritime Museum.

Photographs and the British Empire Medal presented to William Colbon have been put on display at the Albert Dock site.

His sister, Eva Grams, and family members paid a visit to the museum to see the memorabilia on display Nephew Terry Colbon said: "We're so grateful that it's in the museum for ever more

The merchant seaman was serving as the donkeyman, in the engine room, on the SS Cerinthus when it was torpedoed in the South Atlantic in November, 1942.

Mr Colbon spent 2/ 2 months adrift and watched every one of his 19 crewmates die of thirst and hunger.

He only survived his ordeal by putting raw flying fish in his mouth to keep his tongue moist, and hiding beneath blankets to protect himself against the sun.

When he was finally picked up by an American freighter his weight had dropped from13 stone to a little over five stone.

His sister said: "At first the Americans thought it was a German booby-trap and they machine gunned the lifeboat.

One bullet went each side of the blanket covering him. Then they saw a hand coming up.

"They took him to Port of Spain in Trinidad where he spent quite a bit of time in hospital. They nicknamed him 76 because of the days he'd survived.

"He came home via New York where the boxing champion Jack Dempsey invited him for a holiday and they made quite a bit of fuss of him.

"I nursed him when he got home. A lot of relatives of the men who had died used to write to him and I had to answer the letters. I didn't always tell them the full truth - how can you tell someone how their 15-year-old son died"People were always trying to get him to tell his story but he wouldn't."

Mr Colbon was awarded the British Empire Medal for outstanding qualities of courage, fortitude and endurance, although he would never wear it. The medal, along with a crucifix Mr Colbon wore around his neck throughout his ordeal, are both now on display.

Dr Alan Scarth of the

Maritime Museum said: "These artefacts are on display in the Battle of the Atlantic gallery.

"We find it the most wonderful thing from a curator's point of view when we are given items by family members like this. For us it's the biggest kick there is.

"This is the most exceptional case of survival I've seen that's directly Liverpool-related Mr Colbon's wife, Martha, had been killed in a bombing raid on Liverpool two years before while he was at sea.

After the war he was a member of the crew of the Gothic, on which the Queen and Duke of Edinburgh sailed on their world tour of 1953.

He died in January 1968 aged 59


MEMORIES: Eva Grams and Terry Colbon look at the memorabilia at the museum Picture: TONY KENWRIGHT; PROUD: William Colbon; SURVIVOR: William Colbon pictured after his rescue
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Publication:Liverpool Echo (Liverpool, England)
Date:Nov 26, 2005
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