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Lascar seamen commemorated with new headstones

30 November 2016

A special service was held at Margate Cemetery, Kent today, November 30, to honour two Lascar Seamen who died upon “S.S. Matra”, which sank on November 13, 1939, after hitting a German underwater mine.

Seaman Kala Mian, aged 24 and Cassab, Munir aged 41, both drowned along with 14 others when the ship sank during the dark hours of the cold November night. They had just entered the Thames Estuary to go towards East India Docks before going home to Liverpool, when the ship broke in two after the explosion.

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

However, thanks to the In From The Cold Project, the Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC) have now been able to identify the two graves in Margate Cemetery and have given both men Commission headstones. They are buried in a joint grave.

In a personal account from Percy Piercy from his ‘Maritime Memories’, Piercy describes the fateful night “S.S. Matra” would perish:

‘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, organised by Thanet District Council, was led by RNLI chaplain, Brian Sharp, and attended by representatives from the War Graves Commission, Thanet District Council and RNLI volunteers.