Remembering those who died on SS Tilawa

In a dramatic event that would end the lives of 280 passengers and alter the lives of many survivors, the SS Tilawa mysteriously met its demise at the hands of a Japanese submarine, writes Claudia Lee.

It is believed this was the only passenger cargo liner attacked in the Indian Ocean during the Second World War.

One of the last known survivors of the cargo liner that sunk in 1942 – dubbed the Indian Titanic – is living in South London.

Arvinbhai Jani, 83, who lives in Brigstock Road, Thornton Heath, was aboard the S.S. Tilawa ship which sank in the middle of the Indian Ocean.

On November 23, 1942, the British-built ship was travelling from Mumbai to South Africa when it was struck near the Seychelles by two Japanese torpedoes in the early hours of the morning.

Kash Kumar and Arvindbhai Jani Picture: Tilawa 1942

On board were 222 crew members, 732 passengers, nine lifeboats and more than 6,000 tonnes of cargo.

The ship contained many Indian nationals – 280 of whom lost their lives.

Eventually a rescue mission led by a Royal Navy cruiser HMS Birmingham and S.S. Carthage rescued 682 people, who were all taken back to Mumbai four days later.

Mr Jani was three years old during the Tilawa attack, and although he said he was too young to remember the event, he remembers his mother talking about how she “wrapped him in her sari and jumped into the lifeboat”.

His older sister, Chandraben Rawal, 86, who lives in Addiscombe, recalled how often her late mother, Vasantben Labshankar Jani, would speak of her survival account.

In order to make the last lifeboat, she had to wrap Mr Jani in her sari and make the jump from the boat.

In 1975, Mr Jani settled in Thornton Heath, along with other family members. He worked as a self-employed insurance broker.

The National Maritime Museum in Greenwich held the world’s second ever commemoration for the Tilawa tragedy Picture: Google Street View

A campaign to highlight the tragedy, called Tilawa 1942 The Forgotten Tragedy, was founded by Mr. Emile Solanki from West Norwood, now living in Toronto Canada. He is leading the charge to put Tilawa back on the map and ensure it is prominently featured in the history books.

The Solanki’s lived in West Norwood for 23 years. They are descendants of the late Mr. Nichhabhai Chibabhai Solanki, who sadly perished with the ship.

Tilawa 1942 organised a survivor dinner on November 22, with the families of the two known survivors, Tejparkash Mangat and Mr Jani.

Mrs Mangat travelled all the way from her home in Ohio, America, for the occasion.

Then on November 23, the Leopold Muller Theatre at the National Maritime museum in Greenwich hosted the 81st anniversary of the tragedy.

The second commemoration of the Tilawa in the world, following an event held at the Royal Bombay Yacht Club, Mumbai, India, last year.

From left, founder of tilawa1942 Emile Solanki, survivor Tejparkash Mangat, Mervyn Maciel who lost his parents and three siblings, survivor Arvindbhai Jani, Councillor Dr Dominic Mbang, Mayor of Greenwich, Haroon Tar Mahomed, founder of the S.S. Tilawa Foundation in South Africa, and Kash Kumarat the ceremony on November 23 Picture: Tilawa 1942

Mr Kumar, who now lives in Leicester, said: “We lived as a family in West Norwood for 23 years and Arvinbhai was right on our doorstep.

“It’s shocking. This young boy was on the same ship as my grandfather who drowned. My father was nine years old. It’s very sad.”

In 2017 a British exploration company visited the wreck site using a subsea vessel.

It was always known that the cargo Tilawa was carrying the day it was sunk

included silver. It took more than six months to find 2,364 silver bars with a value of approximately £32million.

Tilawa 1942 will continue its search for answers to many questions surrounding the tragedy, in an effort to bring some closure to the thousands affected by the incident.


Picture: S.S. Tilawa, Kash Kumar’s late grandfather who drowned, Nichhabhai Chibabhai Solanki and survivors in a lifeboat. Picture: Tilawa 1942

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