Lemuel Blades III

Ned Laughinghouse

Tobacconist aboard the Zamzam

Excerpts from a presentation at the 2006 reunion by Ned's grandson, Lemuel Blades III

Ned Laughinghouse, affectionately called "Pardner", was Lem's mother's father. Lem described his grandfather as likeable, a man's man with a gentle streak, a devout Roman Catholic, a devoted couple (with wife Mary). Ned liked the stage and often performed with his daughter (Lem's mother). Ned was 54 years old in 1941; Lem was eight. Ned and Mary lived in Wilson, North Carolina.

Lem asked us to forget, for the moment, what we know now about the harmful effects of tobacco and instead realize what a major economic force tobacco had become by the 1930's, especially in North Carolina, but even as an international business. Wilson was in the heart of the tobacco-growing area.

Ned was an auctioneer. In the late 1930's Britain had asked the American tobacco industry to assist in establishing a tobacco market in Salisbury, Southern Rhodesia. By 1938 that market was up and running. The James I. Miller Tobacco Company and other Wilson interests planned to participate in the 1941 market in Southern Rhodesia. Ned Laughinghouse, who was with Southern Tobacco, accepted an offer to go with the James I. Miller group.

There were seven men in this Wilson group, but one of the men, Dick Brooks, went by himself as an advance man. The other six were booked on the Zamzam: Paul Burton, Harry Cawthorne, William Johnson, Ned Laughinghouse, Thomas Miller, and James Smith. Although war had started in Europe, Southern Rhodesia seemed like a long way from Europe. The Wilson group was not blind to the risks--but neither were they blind to the expected financial benefits.

Lem is not sure of the exact date the tobacconists boarded the Zamzam, but he does know they had a long wait, as the sailing date kept being postponed for at least two weeks. It was hinted that the ship was waiting for an "all clear" from the government or from private shipping interests that would indicate that the route was clear of German hostile ships.

The Wilson group was not allowed to leave the Zamzam during this period, because, when the Zamzam would finally get clearance to sail, there would be no time to round up passengers. "So the passengers fumed and dawdled the time away, feeling like prisoners and looking wistfully across the river to the lights of New York City." Finally, on March 20, the Zamzam sailed.

Ned and Harry Cawthorne were cabin mates, and their cabin was probably the most comfortable cabin on the ship, since its location amid ship meant less rocking on the ocean swells. The door opened directly onto the promenade deck. The cabin's measurements were only five feet by seven, with an upper and lower bunk; it had its own toilet and wash basin with running water. No wonder it was listed as "Deluxe First Class"!

During the shelling on April 17, Ned got hit in the forehead by a large piece of wood or metal. The wound was severe. (Bob Buyse remembers sitting beside Ned in the lifeboat, as Ned pressed a towel to his head to keep his brains from falling out.) Somehow, Ned got aboard the Atlantis (Tamesis) with some help from others--but apparently Ned climbed up the rope ladder on the side of the raider by himself before he collapsed on the raider's deck.

The injury to his brain was so massive that all that could be done for him was to keep him comfortable, even though the doctor who attended Ned was reported to be a highly skilled brain surgeon.

Ned died on April 28 in the sick bay. At sunset that day the officers of the Atlantis, in full formal tropical dress, along with several members of the crew, gave Ned Laughinghouse a Christian burial at sea.

It was not until August 14, 1942 that Ned's family got the final word from Berlin that, indeed, their beloved husband, dad, grandfather was dead. And it was after the war's end that the family finally learned any details. That came through Frank Vicovari, also injured on the Zamzam and kept in the Atlantis' sick bay.

Ned Laughinghouse was the only Zamzamer to die as a direct result of the shelling or sinking. "The Zamzam experience was a tragic venture for our family," Lem said in conclusion. "There must be some alternative (to war)."