, , , , , , , , ,

A true story inspires World War II survival tale

Paisley Arts Centre in New Street

A true story inspires World War II survival tale.

Coming to Paisley Arts Centre on 29 Oct, Lifeboat is based on the extraordinary true story of Bess Walder and Beth Cummings.

Set in World War II, it is a story of courage, survival and enduring friendship brought to life by Musselburgh-based Catherine Wheels Theatre Company.

On Friday 13 September, 1940, a ship, The City of Benares set sail from Liverpool for Canada. On board were 90 evacuees escaping the relentless bombing and dangers of war torn Britain. Four days into the crossing, the ship was torpedoed and sank. Only eleven of the evacuees survived.

Paisley Arts Centre in New Street
Two fifteen year old girls, Bess Walder and Beth Cummings, spent 19 terrifying hours in the freezing waters of the Atlantic on an upturned Lifeboat, willing each other to survive.

The inspiration for Lifeboat came when Catherine Wheels Director Gill Robertson came across a ‘how we met’ article in the Sunday papers in 1999. In the article, Bess and Beth (who were then in their 70s) explained how they first met on the evacuee ship, The City of Benares in 1940, bound for Canada.

Bess and Beth credited their survival on the fact that they were both together and willed each other to survive, and that they were young and did not realise the direness of their situation. The article ended by saying, ‘we were not in the business of giving up…we hung on’ which of course went on to become a key line in the play.

Both Gill and Catherine Wheels writer Nicola McCartney couldn’t ignore Bess and Beth’s compelling, true-to-life story and subsequently brought Lifeboat to life on stage in 2002.

Lifeboat will be at Paisley Arts Centre on Tues 29 October, 7.30pm. Tickets to the show cost £10 (£6 conc) and can be purchased at the Box Office in Paisley Arts Centre, on 0300 300 1210 or online at

For further information on Renfrewshire Arts & Museums’ events log on to or follow us on Facebook or Twitter @RenArtsMuseums.