RARELY do we find mementos which survived conflicts, the one’s we do are battered and bruised with the passing years.

In a Malton woman’s case, one item did survive- a blue box.

Romey Willis is remembering the 80th anniversary of the ‘Simon Bolivar’ tragedy; a Dutch-liner struck by twin German mines on November, 18, 1939.

More than 120 people lost their lives, with only 98 surviving the tragedy, including her parents George and Nancy Gourlay.

Romey said: “The whole event was a tragedy; you only think of the war claiming soldiers’ lives, but we forget about the tragedies involving innocent civilians.

“Children were orphaned, people lost their whole family and the sinking of the Simon Bolivar summarised the devastation of war.”

On September, 25 1939, George, aged 39, and Nancy, 27, were married at Saville Street Methodist Church in Malton after a quick engagement.

Two months later, George took a position of assistant superintendent engineer for the Trinidad Coastal Service and the couple set off on a honeymoon voyage to their new home.

Halfway through the journey, two explosions shattered the ship; those who were not killed instantly were thrown into the oily North Sea.

George and Nancy managed to get into a lifeboat and were taken to a hospital in Colchester, Essex.

Losing everything - including their wedding gifts – the couple bravely travelled back to Trinidad in January 1940.

The couple remained in Trinidad for five-years with their three daughters - Elizabeth, Marty and Romey - until their return to England in 1945.

George wrote a series of letters documenting the journey back to England in March 1945.

Conditions were not suitable for passengers with German mines still lurking in the seas, particularly for baby Romey of three-months-old.

In his letters, he said: “We are taking you home to your native land - dear old England - which has been knocked about badly, but the folk will still be the same.

“I hope later to tell you all about the place you have left, your birthplace, and I wonder if you will ever return, just out of curiosity.”

Returning to Malton, George became managing director of Nancy’s family business Snow’s Drapers Of Malton until it closed in 1967 for road widening at Butcher Corner - he never went over sea’s again.

Romey added: “Myself and my husband Roger did return to Trinidad, which was an amazing experience.

“We visited my birthplace at the Colonial Hospital, the street we lived and the All Saint’s Church where I was baptised along with my sisters.

“I could not help feeling emotional as I stood on the deck looking at Trinidad for the first time; wondering how my mother felt.

“At the beginning of the war, my mother never travelled further than Devon!”

The journey of Romey’s blue box has been adventurous, to say the least.

The handcrafted blue box with study leather straps has surviving 75 years of travelling, seaside trips to Filey, placed on an Austin 12 and a study trip to Tanzania with Romey’s son.

George created the blue box, inspired by the remarkable escape of a father and his three-year-old daughter from the Simon Bolivar tragedy.

After the second explosion, the gentleman called Sydney G Preece placed his daughter Elizabeth into a box to protect her from the oily waters of the North Sea.

Venturing back to England through the mine covered sea, George made the blue box to protect baby Romey if a similar incident occurred again.

Romey added: “My father can make and mend anything; inspired by Scott and Shackleton as a young boy he took an engineering apprenticeship at 14-years-old.

“Before World War Two, my father worked in Antarctica as a marine engineer and spent his whole time fixing various engines - ‘the ingenious George’ was his nickname.

“The blue box holds so many significant memories for our family.

“It is important to remember the outbreak of war 80 years ago and what terrible carnage and heartbreak it caused.

“Amidst all that horror of the explosion on the ship, the stories of courage and heroic bravery of those saving lives and tending the injured are really what is important to remember and be thankful for.

“Reading through those stories of survivors who lost their loved ones so tragically was really moving.

“It is difficult to imagine.”