THIS month marks the 75th anniversary of the devastating sinking of the hospital ship SS Amsterdam.

It is known 106 souls perished when she hit two mines and sunk in just 11 minutes off the Normandy coast.

Of the 419 people on board, 55 patients, ten Royal Army Medical Corps staff, 30 crew members and 11 prisoners of war died in the disaster.

Many of the crew members were from Harwich, including William Harry Hakins, whose family only recently discovered the truth about his death.

William, known as Bill, was an assistant steward on the SS Amsterdam as part of the pre-war crew.

His parents ran a former pub in Dovercourt called the White Horse and Bill is believed to have joined the crew in 1941 in his early 30s.

Peter Betts, Bill’s nephew, was only four when the SS Amsterdam sunk.

Now 78, he grew up only being told his uncle Bill had died in an accident.

But about three years ago, he discovered Bill actually died aged 38 out to sea when the hospital ship sank.

Peter, of Great Oakley, said: “I found out my uncle was in the disaster about three years ago when my son Jon Betts was in London and Bill’s name was on a war memorial, and we did some research.

“It’s just a bit of a shock to find out my uncle went down with the ship.

“When I found out, I felt sad for him - and I only found out about three years ago.

“My parents did not talk about it much and I was always told my uncle Bill died in an accident.

“I grew up knowing Bill used to play for a football team in Dovercourt called the Exiles and he was married with two children Tony and Gillian, who still live locally.”

Jon, who lives in Sutton, Suffolk, has researched the circumstances of his great uncle Bill’s over the past few years.

The 47-year-old said the ship sunk on August 7, 1944 with 258 patients on board.

He adds: “The SS Amsterdam had a varied and full life, before she sank.

“My great uncle had told my great aunt Joan a day or so before that he would be home that evening to take her to a dance in Harwich, unfortunately he never made it.”

The Amsterdam was built by John Brown in Scotland and launched in 1930 as a passenger ferry for the London and North Eastern Railway Company working the route between Harwich and the Hook of Holland.

In 1939 it was requisitioned by the Ministry of War Transport and used in 1940 for the evacuation of British troops from France and the repatriation of evacuated French troops.

By 1944 the ship arrived in North Shields to be fitted out as an Infantry Landing Ship capable of carrying six landing craft and 420 troops.

SS Amsterdam was then converted into a hospital carrier for the Normandy landings and fitted with six water taxis.

She left for the Normandy coast to pick up her first casualties on July 19, 1944 and was on her third and final trip when she hit by two mines one hour from Juno Beach, in Normandy.

Jon said he wanted to share the story to honour Bill and and his crew mates on the anniversary.