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Collection 624 Ephemera of the ZamZam Incident

Identifier: CN 624

Scope and Contents

Diaries, scrapbooks, newspaper clippings, oral history interviews, correspondence, photos, and other materials relating to the passengers, mainly American missionaries, who were aboard the ship Zamzam, sunk in the south Atlantic Ocean in 1941 by a German warship. Materials describe the sinking, the subsequent experiences of the passengers as German prisoners and the internment of some for the duration of the war, and reunions held in later years by the survivors and their families.


  • Created: 1941-2006

Conditions Governing Access

Because of the fragility of the McCallister scrapbook in folder 4-1, it is unavailable for researcher use; photocopies of the originals are available in folder 4-2.

Video V3 may not be copied. Anyone wanting to get copies should contact ITN-Fox Movietone.

Biographical or Historical Information

ZamZam was a ship of neutral Egyptian registry which was shelled and sunk by a German warship in the south Atlantic Ocean April 17, 1941. The ship was carrying, besides the crew, about 200 passengers, mainly American missionaries. Only one person died as an immediate result of the shelling. The passengers and crew were carried tro German-occupied France, where citzens of neutral countries were released and citizens of belligent countries were put in internment camps.

Historical Timeline

1909 - The Leicestershire, an ocean liner was built by Harland and Wolf in Belfast, Ireland, for the Bibby Line. Her gross weight was 8,059 gross tons, length 467.2 feet x beam 54.3 feet x depth 31.7 feet, one funnel, four masts, twin screw and a speed of 15 knots. (Her gross tonnage in 1941 would be 8299 and her speed 14 knots.) The ship was launched on June 3rd and delivered to her owners On September 11th. Her maiden voyage was from Birkenhead, England to Rangoon, Burma.

August 1914 - The ship was requisitioned by the Indian colonial government to serve as troop transport and carried the 17th Lancers regiment from Bombay, India to Marseilles, France. She also carried Indian and Burmese troops to the Persian Gulf before being returned to her owners.

November 1917 - The ship was requisitioned by the British government to serve as troop transport and convoyed 2,000 troops from Plymouth, England to Bombay, India.

April to August, 1918 - The ship was part of the transport of 2,000 troops British troops to Archangel in northern Russia and then of the convoy that brought 5,900 American troops to London and Liverpool.

December 1918 - The ship carried 3,000 Australian troops from Liverpool, England to the Australian ports of Freemantle, Melbourne, and Sydney.

Ca. 1918 - After the ship was returned to her owners, they changed her from coal to oil burning and otherwise modernized the ship. The coal bunker was turned into cargo space.

1930 - The Leicestershire was purchased by the British National Expedition Company, Ltd., and renamed British Exhibitor

1933 - The British Exhibitor was purchased on September 28th by the Egyptian Company for Travel and Navigation after the bankruptcy of the previous owners. It was renamed the Zamzam and for two months of each year at least carried Islamic pilgrims back and forth from Mecca.

1934 - Zamzam was transferred to Societe Misr de Navigation of Alexandria, Egypt in May and continued carrying pilgrims.

1937 - May. German naval captain Bernhard Rogge is in England as one of Germany’s delegation to the coronation of King George VI. While in Dartmouth, he noticed four masted ships in the harbor and asked the British naval officer acting as his escort. He was told they were ships of the Bibby line and that during World War I, the British government had requisitioned these ships as troop transports. In April 1941 Rogge would remember this information when he identified the Zamzam as a four masted Bibby liner.

1939 - Zamzam is laid up in Cairo in October.


October 28 - While in the harbor of Alexandria, Egypt after returning from a voyage to Japan, the ship was damaged during attack by Italian planes on British warships berthed nearby. She was struck on the port side by a bomb which set fire to the bridge, destroyed the captain's quarters and damaged the smoke stack.

December - Zamzam resumes service under Captain William Gray Smith and is to carry passengers and cargo on the Alexandria - Cape Town - New York route, via the Red Sea, Indian Ocean, South Atlantic Ocean, and the Caribbean Sea.


February 24 - Zamzam arrived at Jersey City, New Jersey with 99 passengers after a sixty day journey of some 13,000 miles and later travels on to Boston. She sailed blacked out because of wartime conditions.

March - The ship was held several days in Hoboken harbor because of a suit filed against the owners by stevedore Michael Pnziano, who claimed he had suffered a skull fracture while working on the ship. It was allowed to sail after the owners posted a $50,000 bond. March 20 - The Zamzam sailed from Hoboken, New Jersey (at 9:30pm), sailing for Alexandria, Egypt, with planned stops at Baltimore, Trinidad, Recife, Capetown, and Mombassa. Besides Captain Smith, there were 141 in the crew, including officers. Besides cargo, the ship carried 202 passengers. (There are many different reports of the exact number of passengers.) And of the passengers, 137 were missionaries (including many married couples and children) sailing to Africa to their mission stations there. Seventeen were Roman Catholic workers sailing to South Africa. The rest were from twenty-one different Protestant denominational and nondenominational missions. Besides the missionaries, there was also a large contingent (24) of the British-American Ambulance Corps, volunteer ambulance drivers going to North Africa to serve as noncombatants with the Allied forces.

March 23 - Zamzam arrived at Baltimore

March 30 - Zamzam arrived at Trinidad. According to the memoirs of the German naval captain, Bernhard Rogge, while in Trinidad, the ship's captain received orders from the British Admiralty to sail to a prearranged course. (The ship was carrying a British cargo and therefore had to conform to British regulations.) His request to sail with lights (showing his neutral status) because he had women and children aboard was refused and he was told to again blackout the ship. On the voyage between Trinidad and Recife, the portholes were painted black. German naval authorities would later point to these actions as evidence that the ship, although neutral, was not acting in a neutral manner. The Germans would also claim that a large part of the ship's cargo was contraband by German definition.

April 9 - Zamzam departed from the city of Recife, Brazil (capital of the province of Pernambuco)

April 14 - Ship changes course, the captain says later, in response to an SOS from a Norwegian ship attacked by a German warship.

April 17 - The German surface raider Atlantis (sailing at this time under the name Tamesis) shelled the ship at approximately 5:00 AM, knocking out the radio with the first shell so no SOS was sent. Most passengers got into lifeboats, which were in terrible condition, possibly because of the shelling. Some of the lifeboats capsized minutes after being put in the water. All passengers and crew were taken on board the Atlantis. The Zamzam was boarded by the Germans, who removed any remaining people and all supplies useful for the Atlantis. They placed time bombs aboard which sank the Zamzam.

April 18 - The Atlantis met with its supply ship, the Dresden, and transferred all the Zamzam passengers except three (Ned Laughinghouse, Robert Starling, Frank Vicovari) with wounds too serious to be moved. The passengers lived on the Dresden as prisoners.

April 26 - The Dresden and Atlantis meet for the last time.

April 28 - Passenger Ned Laughinghouse died in the Atlantis sickbay of wounds received during the shelling.

May 13 - The Dresden sighted a British convoy and evades it.

May 19 - First news stories on the loss of the Zamzam, presumed sunk, published and broadcast, stating that the fate of the passengers and crew was unknown.

May 20 - The Dresden reached St. Jean-de-Luz on the coast of German occupied France after a long, circuitous journey that included slipping through the British blockade. The Americans passengers were disembarked and taken to the resort town of Biarritz, France. The American consul at Bordeaux, Henry S. Waterman, was there to deal with the needs of the Americans. The passengers and crew from countries at war with Germany were taken by sea to Bordeaux. (At this point, the Germans were apparently not considering Egypt a neutral nation.) They were then separated into groups of men and women and sent to different internment camps. Most of the women are eventually exchanged for German women in Allied countries, but many of the men remain in prison camp until the end of the war. Among the internment camps that the men were kept imprisoned in Germany, Bulgaria, and France were Tost, Giromagny, Westertimke, Marlag und Milag Nord. Among the camps in Germany that the women were kept in was Liebenau. The German government announced that a German warship had sunk the Zamzam and the passengers had been taken to occupied France.

May 21 - Consul Waterman cables the US State Department and the US embassy in Vichy, France (with a copy to the US embassy in Madrid, Spain) about the arrival of the Zamzam passengers and the anticipated evacuation of the Americans through Spain and Portugal.

May 24 - DuWayne G. Clark and George W. Poland, Jr., of the US Spanish embassy staff arrived in Biarritz to assist and escort the Americans. They were also assisted by the American consuls in Bordeaux and Biarritz.

May 31 - The American passengers, except for the ambulance drivers, are released by the German authorities to American embassy personnel on the French-Spanish border at Hendaye. There were a total of 119 people. With them were Poland and Clark as well as Theresa Welch of the Madrid embassy and Nathaniel C. Wilson and Charles Carr of the American Red Cross office in Spain. They traveled to Portugal, via San Sebastian, Spain, by train.

June 1 - The American Zamzam passengers cross the Spanish/Portuguese border by train at Fuente de Õnoro at noon and are met by members of the US Lisbon embassy.

June 2 - The American passengers arrive in Lisbon and then travel by bus to Sintra, Portugal, where they stayed until arrangements were made for their voyage back to the United States. Life magazine published a brief article on the sinking of the Zamzam.

June 9 - First three passengers from the Zamzam return to New York flying on a Pan American Airways flying board and landing at the marine field at La Guardia field. They were Charles J. V. Murphy, an editor of Fortune magazine; David Scherman, the photographer for Life magazine; and Charles A. McCarthy of the British-American Ambulance Corps.

June 21 - Some passengers (most of the single women) of the Zamzam arrived back in New York harbor, aboard the S. S.Mouzinho.

June 23 - Some passengers (eight families) of the Zamzam arrived back in New York harbor, aboard the S. S.Serpa Pinto. Life magazine publishes an extensive article about the sinking of the Zamzam and the voyage of the passengers to occupied France. The article was written by Charles Murphy, a writer for Fortune magazine and a Zamzam passenger. It was illustrated with many photos taken by David E. Scherman, Life photographer, also a passenger.

June 24 - Fifty-three passengers (including the Danielson, Buyse and Arthur Barnett families) of the Zamzam arrived back in New York harbor aboard the S. S.Exeter.

June 27 - Twenty Zamzam missionary passengers speak of their experiences to a packed auditorium of approximately 2000 at the Baptist Temple in Brooklyn, New York. The meeting was sponsored by Africa Inland Mission, Sudan Interior Mission, and South Africa General Mission.

June 30 - Some passengers of the Zamzam arrived back in New York harbor.

July 28 - Some passengers of the Zamzam arrived back in New York harbor aboard the Excalibur. These were Jim Stewart and Tom Greenough, two members of the ambulance corp who had escaped while in France and had gotten to Portugal.

August 2 - Some passengers of the Zamzam arrived back in New York harbor on the USS West Point. These were the remaining members of the ambulance corp, except for Frank Vicovari, who was still a prisoner of the Germans.

November 11 - Elma Elam, a Southern Baptist missionary and survivor of the Zamzam, died shortly after telling the story of her experiences to the Saline County School of Missions in the USA. Later, Elam Memorial School in Shaki, Nigeria was named after her.

November 21 - The Atlantis was sunk by the British naval vessel, HMS Devonshire, off the coast of South Africa. A photo of Scherman’s from the June 23 issue of Life magazine had been used by British pilots to confirm that the ship was the Atlantis.

December 15 - Life magazine published an article about the prisoners life on the Dresden, illustrated with photos taken by Scherman and seized and then released by the German censor


June 29 - Some passengers of the Zamzam arrived back in New York harbor on the Drottningholm. These were 10 Canadian women who had been exchanged for German women held in Canada. These women had been released from Liebenau camp on September 12, but had been forced to live in Berlin on very limited resources until arrangement were made for the exchange.


February 25 - Francis Vicovari is repatriated. He had been on the Atlantis when it was sunk, was rescued after two days on the ocean by a German submarine which was sunk and was rescued by another German submarine. He was then taken to L' Orient in German occupied France and was in an internment camp until he was exchanged.

October 23 - TASS, the Russian news agency, announced that the Russian army fighting in Bulgaria had liberated a German prison camp that contains 104 survivors of the Egyptian crew of the Zamzam. In 1945 Percy Knauth,a correspondent for the New York Times, found many of the crew living in a small town in Yugoslavia.


April 27 - Walter Guilding released from his internment camp at Westertimke, N. Bremen, Germany when the British army occupies the area. He is perhaps the last Zamzam passenger to recover his freedom.

May 8 - V-E Day, the end of the war in Europe.


March 20 - Africa Inland Mission, the agency of several of the Zamzam passengers, sued the shipping line and the travel agency in Africa Inland Mission vs. the Alexandria Navigation Company and Thomas Cook & Son-Wagon-Lits, Inc. charging negligence. The case was heard in the Supreme Court, New York County before Justice Joseph A. Gavaagan and a jury. The court dismissed AIM’s complaint on March 20. December 23 - The mission having appealed to the New York Supreme Court Appellate Division, the appeal was granted and a new trial was granted in the case. 1948

March 12 - New trial scheduled.

May 27 - At approximately this date, an out of court settlement was reached between the parties involved. The defendants agreed to pay 50% of the mission’s claim of $24,448.79. Of this sum of $12,224.40, the mission received $9,543.30. The rest went for lawyer fees and expenses.

July 20-21, 1991 - Reunion of Zamzam survivors and family at St. Olaf College in Northfield, Minnesota.

June 19-20, 1993 - Reunion of Zamzam survivors and family at the Fatima Retreat Center at Notre Dame in South Bend, Indiana.

July 27-28, 1996 - Reunion of Zamzam survivors and family at the Fatima Retreat Center at Notre Dame in South Bend, Indiana.

August 17-19, 2001 - Reunion of Zamzam survivors and family at the Fatima Retreat Center at Notre Dame in South Bend, Indiana.

August 15-17, 2003 - Reunion of Zamzam survivors and family at the Fatima Retreat Center at Notre Dame in South Bend, Indiana.

August 4-6, 2006 - Reunion of Zamzam survivors and family at the Keswick Conference grounds in Whiting, New Jersey.

July 30-August 1, 2010 - Reunion of Zamzam survivors and family at the Mennonite Central Committee Welcoming Place in Akron, Pennsylvania.

April 15-17, 2016 - Reunion of Zamzam survivors and family at the Fellowship Hall of the Messiah Lutheran Church in Lindsborg, Kansas.


5.37 Cubic Feet (10 Boxes (DC), Audio Recordings, Oversize Materials, Photographs, Videos)

Language of Materials


Additions and Accruals

The materials in this collection were given to the Billy Graham Center Archives by a variety of donors in 1992, 2006, 2007, 2010, and 2016, including generous donations from Eleanor Anderson, Arthur Malcolm Barnett, Lemuel S. Blades, Leonard Buck, Wilfred Danielson, Mary Fix Fawcett, Lynnette Mathewson, Douglas and Kathy McCallister, James J. Murray, Alice Landis Schellenberg, David and Marilou Stewart.

Accession: 92-99, 06-6, 06-25, 06-26, 06-27, 06-29, 06-31

November 20, 2006

Bob Shuster

Accession 07-33

Revised April 17, 2007

Bob Shuster

Accessions 07-38, 07-39, 07-40

Revised June 18, 2007

Bob Shuster

Accession 07-49

Revised July 20, 2007

Bob Shuster

Accession 07-51

Revised August 3, 2007

Bob Shuster

Accessions 07-49, 07-56, 07-60, 07-63, 07-67, 07-73

Revised: February 19, 2008

Bob Shuster

K. Hayward

Accession 10-54

Revised: August 21, 2010

Bob Shuster

Accession 12-16

Revised July 6, 2012

Bob Shuster

Accession 16-11

Revised April 18, 2016

Bob Shuster
Collection 624 Ephemera of the ZamZam Incident
Bob Shuster
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Roman Script

Repository Details

Part of the Billy Graham Center Archives Repository

501 College Avenue
Wheaton IL 60187 US