S.S. Samtampa Memorial: A community united in remembrance of Porthcawl’s maritime history 

On 30 August, an inspiring memorial sculpture was erected in Rest Bay, Porthcawl to commemorate the men who lost their lives in the S.S. Samtampa wreck on April 23 1947.

The project, led by Gary Victor from Porthcawl SHOUT Forum (PSF), was first brought before Bridgend County Borough Council (BCBC) in 2003. Gary recalls that although he had been aware of the maritime tragedy, he realised that this was a story not being told. He wanted to communicate this incredible story in a manner future generations would be able to appreciate and remember.

“I knew about [the S.S. Samtampa disaster] as a historical event, but it is such a strong story – it’s such an epic event – and there is very little information about it. People come in their thousands to Porthcawl and go back home without ever knowing about it. I thought that was wrong and wanted to make a change.”

Gary Victor, Porthcawl SHOUT Forum member and Memorial Project Manager

PSF was keen to make this a truly collaborative project, seeking support and input from numerous local organisations, such as Porthcawl Museum and Historical Society, HM Coastguard and the Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI). 

PSF reached out to Bridgend College in 2017. Expressing a desire to share the historical event with young people and ensure its longevity, PSF identified the College as an ideal partner to help bring this vision to life. Lecturer Hilary Statts Evans worked with Art and Design students to develop a range of concepts in response to the S.S. Samtampa disaster, including artwork and 3D representations.

“It’s great that this project, which was abstract at the time, has now come to fruition. For our students who were involved, it’s exciting that their efforts and ideas will have longevity, and that not only are they aware of the story but that, through their work, the local community will now be too.”

Hilary Statts Evans, Art, Design and Media Lecturer at Bridgend College

These artistic concepts were an important element of the creative process and project remit. Whilst the sculpture itself was single-handedly carved by artist Martin Williams, Martin approached the design period in partnership with several individuals and organisations. The final design has, therefore, been influenced by many different voices, making it a truly collaborative piece of work.

Martin was keen to create something that was both visually striking yet recognisable from a distance, drawing people in. Once closer, the concept was such that people would be able to learn and connect with the piece through the narrative woven into its design. 

“We were approached by Porthcawl SHOUT, looking at the designs of the Samtampa from a young person’s perspective, which was integrated into the designs. We then worked in groups to develop different designs and concepts to present to the project team.

In terms of my design, I was focused on the materials used in the remains of the Samtampa itself – chains, anchors, bits of metal, all of which had corroded over the years due to the salt water. 

It makes me feel proud to have been a part of the project. To have been involved in the sculpture’s unveiling is quite special.”

Laura Dunlop, former Art and Design student at Bridgend College

Comprising of four connecting pieces, the memorial depicts the eight brave crew members of the Edward Prince of Wales lifeboat who lost their lives trying to assist the S.S. Samtampa. Shaped as a ship’s prow, the sculpture also incorporates elements of the wreckage itself, including chains, water and a rocky outcrop.

The sculpture was crafted from Portland stone, a material which Martin uses in most of his works. Martin worked on the sculpture six days a week for nine months, completing the memorial at the end of 2017. 

Whilst the project had initially been conceived to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the disaster in 2017, the project was stalled due to funding constraints. 

The £70,000 project received its initial funding from the National Lottery Heritage Fund, BCBC and private donors. However, due to a variety of unforeseen delays, including the need to re-site the memorial and the increase in material costs, the project was delayed until 2023. 

Originally set to stand on Porthcawl’s promenade, the site for the sculpture was relocated further up the coastline to Rest Bay. The final resting place of the memorial sculpture looks out onto Sker Point, the location of the S.S. Samtampa disaster.  

Now in situ, the memorial will serve as a catalyst for thought and conversation, encouraging people to delve further into the history of the disaster, Porthcawl and Welsh history. 

“I hope that by having a visual memory of a tragic event, people will see the memorial and will be encouraged to investigate further – find out why things have been carved onto the surface and what their meanings are. We want to involve and encourage others to further explore one of Wales’ worst maritime disasters.”

Martin Williams, Sculptor

Porthcawl SHOUT Forum was established in 2003 as a Welsh Government initiative. Its aim has been to give older generations a voice in their communities across Wales. Gary warmly invites all to attend the monthly Porthcawl meetings, to listen, present ideas and discuss the ideas of others.

S.S. Samtampa Tragedy

On April 19 1947, the S.S. Samtampa embarked from Middlesbrough with a crew of 39, bound for Newport’s dry docks. After successfully travelling down the east coast and around the south coast of England, the ship encountered hurricane-force winds.

Only 30 miles from her destination, the ship’s captain sent a message stating that she was going to ‘heave to’, a way of slowing a vessel’s movement and a common defence strategy during heaving weather.

Constructed in Portland, Maine, the S.S. Samtampa was originally a ‘Liberty’ ship, one of over 2,700 cargo ships built in the United States during WWII. Due to being of an economical design for speed of manufacture, ideal for war time use, the vessel was pulled apart by the force of the conditions.

The ferocity of the storm caused a tidal surge , causing the bow and stern sections to be pushed onto Sker Point in Porthcawl. Although just a short distance from the shore, the conditions made a land rescue impossible.

On its second attempt, the Mumbles Lifeboat Edward Prince of Wales carried eight seamen from Swansea Bay towards the wreckage in the hope of rescuing the S.S. Samtampa’s crew. Due to the extreme environment – high winds, tidal spray, oil leaking from the ship’s engine – all 39 crew members and the 8 man-rescue team lost their lives.

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