SS City of Benares
Died at Sea 18 September 1940 aged 23
On 13 September 1940 Michael went to Liverpool to board the SS City of Benares, a modern passenger ship owned by the Ellerman Lines. He was to act as an escort to evacuee children bound for Canada as part of Convoy OB13. In the early hours of 18 September the ship was torpedoed in mid-Atlantic by the German submarine U38. Over half the passengers and crew perished including 77 out of 90 evacuee children.
It was reported that Michael mustered his charges on deck and succeeded in getting them into a lifeboat. However in the process of lowering the boat the lines jammed. Michael managed to cut them but the lifeboat and children were pitched into the sea. Along with some of the chidren he managed to get into a second boat and continued to rescue others from the open water. However he became exhausted from his efforts and as the destroyer HMS Hurricane came into sight 24 hours later Michael collapsed and died in the act of signalling the approaching warship.
Michael went to Gordonstoun in 1935 having been at Christ's Hospital School in Sussex. He was a talented scientist but decided to become a parson. After leaving Gordonstoun he went to study theology at Kebel College Oxford. Kurt Hahn wrote of him in an obituary in the Gordonstoun Record, 'I have known few boys who combined so much vigour and so much gentleness'.
At the time of the disaster Michael was engaged to Pamela Bankart. There is a memorial to Michael Rennie in the church of St Jude on the Hill, Hampstead Garden Suburb, London NW11. A fuller account of the tragedy may be seen on the St Jude memorial website. An obituary can be found in the Christmas 1939 - Easter 1945 edition of The Gordonstoun Record.