Selina "Kit" Offord
Once in a while someone comes along with a truly intrinsic connection to the Rohilla. Mrs. Selina "Kit" Offord is one such lady. I was contacted by her son Terry as he felt that I would be intrigued to learn his mother had travelled aboard Rohilla whilst serving as a troopship. Whilst sharing e - mails with Terry and the questions I had for his mother he offered to make a taped interview so that I could hear first hand the memories his mother had as a child aboard the Rohilla. I was really pleased when I received the tape and have replicated the interview below, using (T) for Terry and (K) for his mother.
(T) Hello Mr. Brittain this is Terry Offord and I would first like to apologise for the delay in sending you this tape. As you have requested I am having a chat with my mother Mrs. Selina Offord otherwise known as “Kit” about her experiences on the SS Rohilla, which is the book you wrote about.
First of all may I tell you that mother is 101 years old on the 3rd December 2003. I would like to take you back before I introduce her to tell you a little about the background as to how and why this journey on the Rohilla came about. First of all mother was born of British parents and her father was in the military stationed in India back in the early 1900’s. He was obviously due for leave from the military every five years and in early to mid March of 1912 he was due to come home on the SS Rohilla for his five year leave. Mother herself was born in Belguam, in the Indian State of KARNATAKA and at a later date they moved to the town of Meerut near Delhi. Her date of birth was the 3rd December 1902 and as this trip home for the five year leave for my grandfather was in 1912, mother at that time was 10 year old. She was then taken with her mother and father to the port of departure, which she cannot recall. At that port she boarded the troopship SS. Rohilla ready for the journey home.
Without any further delay I will now introduce you to my mother.
(K) Hello Colin
Thank you for asking for further information about the Rohilla, obviously this journey was a long time ago, but I will do my best to recall what you want to hear.
(T) Well it is obviously best to start with the day of departure.
Do you remember mother off hand what sort of people were travelling on that ship that day.
(K) Well as far as I know, it was all military, I don't remember meeting any civilians whatsoever.
(T) And what part of the ship was your cabin, that was allocated to you, do you remember.
(K) Yes, replies Kit, it was the lower part of the ship because of the porthole there.
(T) Well once the ship left India you obviously crossed the Indian Ocean into the Red Sea, were did you go from there.
(K) Then we entered the Suez Canal and in to the Mediterranean.
(T) Do you remember anything particularly about the Suez Canal
(K) Yes, I was very frightened because looking down to me, there didn't seem to be sufficient water for the ship to pass. Looking down I could see the sand and pebbles and riffraff and it didn't seem sensible to me to be going via the Suez Canal.
(T) Once you were through the Suez Canal obviously you came into the Mediterranean and I gather that you then made for Gibraltar, is that right? From Gibraltar you sailed on towards the Bay of Biscay, Now, I know that you have some vivid memories of the Bay of Biscay, what happened there?
(K) My mother and I were on top deck in our deck chairs, enjoying ourselves when things began to move. The ship was rolling and the sea was getting higher and the water was soaking us and we were sliding from side to side with only the handrails to save us from going overboard!
(T) What happened there?
(K) It became so rough that suddenly my father came up and said “Get down into your cabin, because they are sending out an SOS”
(T) Do you remember if any ships came to your assistance at the time?
(K) No, I don't think any assistance was needed because the sea seemed to become calm, quite as sudden as it had become rough.
(T) So from the Bay of Biscay you presumably sailed up the French coast towards the English Channel bound for Southampton is that right?.
(K) I do remember being told that at the time we had drifted off course in the Bay of Biscay.
(T) As you approached the British coast, what happened.
(K) My mother pointed out to me, “These are the Needles” off the Isle of Wight as we entered Southampton Water. The ship slowed down then, we had to wait for a Pilot to help us into the docks. In that time a rope ladder had been thrown overboard and after a split second we saw a head visit us over the rail. A voice called out, “Have you heard the News” the reply was "No", “well the Titanic has sunk”. This didn't really register with us at the time.
(T) That was the obviously 15th April when the ship was docking at Southampton because that was the day that the Titanic sank! So after the ship had docked at Southampton what happened then.
(K) A short while from then we found ourselves on a train bound for London.
(T) So the overall trip from India to Southampton took some five or six weeks. Is there anything that you particularly remember about the ship itself.
(K) None whatsoever because I was ten years old at the time and all ships looked alike.
(T) After disembarkation and boarding the train you never heard any more about the Rohilla until some seventy odd years later, is that right?
(K) I was on a coach trip up to the north of England and on the way the driver decided he would drop into a little place called Whitby. In that time I visited this kind of shop on the seafront. It attracted me because there was a sailor in a high chair looking out to sea. I went into this shop and on my first view was a huge sheet of newspaper on the wall. Dyed with old age ‘yellow’ and was crumbled and I saw the word Rohilla. I went up to this sailor man and I asked him what it was all about? He turned to me and said with all the years I have sat here you are the first one whose ever ask anything about the Rohilla, and then I got the told the story, that it was lost. Whilst I was in this shop, the sailor man saw I was most interested and took me round. He showed me a model of the Rohilla and asked me where was I sitting when I was sliding from side to side.
(T) It would be interesting to learn if the shop is still there at Whitby and whether or not the model is still in the shop.
I don't really think we can say too much more, its a bit much to expect someone of mothers age to be able to recall after all these years any detailed information other than that which she has given you. So I hope that the information is of use to you and if you do decide that the book should go to reprint that we will see a copy.
(K) “Well thank you Colin for listening I hope the little I’ve given you is a little help and I will now say goodbye and thank you for listening.
Mrs Selina 'Kit' Offord sadly passed away on the 11th January 2008 after a two week spell in hospital. Terry proudly explained that at the age of 105 his mother had lived a very full and eventful life and that she had never forgotten her voyage on the Rohilla.
In his e-mail Terry explained that he and his mother had visited the site of the Royal Victoria Hospital at Netley near Southampton, the hospital was demolished in 1966 however the chapel is still there serving as a museum. They noticed a large picture of a ship on display in the main entrance which was by sheer coincidence the Rohilla. I think that Terry put it well, when he said that it's a small world!
Please feel fee to use the following link if you would like to hear the interview in full yourself.
Copyright © Tom Offord & Colin Brittain 1999 - 2014