The Dragon’s Voice
Hello and welcome back after our summer break! In this issue, we have the July update from Steve and Nancy on their pilgrimage to the graves and memorials of the Western Front. Keith has produced an important account of the hospital ships sunk in WWI, and their nursing staff, especially. We have three book reviews but it would make this issue rather too long if we included them here, so they will be in the next newsletter and if you cannot wait that long, they are on the website at http://www.nwwfa.org.uk/index.php/book-reviews. As ever, we owe many thanks to Jim Morris for allowing us to use his WWI day by day material on the Facebook page.
The Programme for 2017
Sept 2nd : Taff Gillingham : Daddy what did you do in the Khaki Chums; and Development of Uniforms and Equipment.
Oct 7th : John Stanyard : Under Two Flags, the Salvation Army in WW1
Nov 4th : Jane Austin: News from Nowhere: a talk based on her recently-published book about family letters sent from the Western Front back to Bangor
Dec 2nd : Branch Social
A young Austrian friend found a website for the town of Ettlingen in Germany where families have contributed letters and other documents concerning their relations who were in WWI, as a memorial to them. Two items in particular caught my eye and I thought they might be of interest, as an insight into the German soldiers thinking at the time.
This letter is from Musketier Ernst Schmidt, dated 5th March 1917. It was his last letter and he died shortly thereafter.
I have no fear and stand here to protect the hearth, my mother, wife and sisters and brothers and God will be with me and help me to fight as under his protection nothing can happen to me. It would be dreadful if the French came through. Our tedious, false existence continues.
This item concerns Unteroffizier [NCO] Johann Metzger, who survived the war, and deals with his reasons for joining up.
In 1914, Germany felt encircled and threatened by France and Russia, who together with England, composed the Entente powers. The Germans saw the war in large part as a defensive war, in which the highest goal was the protection of the homeland before its invasion by our enemies occurred.
Perhaps this all goes back to the efforts of politicians everywhere to justify wars as being purely defensive.
Some Kind Hand
The latest update on Steve and Nancy's pilgrimage to the cemeteries and memorials of the Western Front is here.
On the harbour front at Holyhead, Anglesey there is a memorial to two ships, the RMS Leinster and HMHS Anglia. The memorial is an anchor from HMHS Anglia and it was unveiled on the 19th September 2014. What could be the connection between these ships? Both ships were either sunk by mines or torpedoed from German submarines. Of the 94 Hospital ships of the British Navy in World War One, 16 were sunk by submarines.
In chronological order the ships are:-
HMHS Anglia, formerly the SS Anglia a 1,862 ton ferry used on the Holyhead to Dun Laoghaire route, hit a mine laid by U-Boat UC5 on the 17th November 1915. This hospital ship had on board fourteen Officers and 374 men who were either sick or wounded, of whom nine Officers and 244 men were saved by other ships. Five Officers and 128 men were lost, as were one nursing sister and nine men of the RAMC. The crew lost 25 men, of whom 23 came from Holyhead. The nurse lost was Staff Nurse Mary Rodwell QAIMNS. She is commemorated on the Hollybrock Memorial Southampton panel 30.
On the 28th October 1916, HMHS Galeka formerly S.S. Galeka a 6,767 ton ship that was used on the UK to South Africa routes was hit by a mine laid by U-Boat UC 26 off Le Havre, France. The ship had no patients on board but 19 RAMC Orderlies were killed in the initial explosion, all the other staff and ship’s crew were rescued. The ship was beached and become a total wreck. As a troopship before her conversion to a hospital ship, HMS Galeka was used to transport Australian and New Zealand Army Corps troops to the Gallipoli campaign.
This was the largest ship sunk in World War One. On the 21st November 1916, HMHS Britannic hit a mine laid by U-Boat U73 in the Aegean Sea. The Britannic was the sister ship of the SS Titanic and SS Olympic. Britannic was a 48,158 ton ocean liner which was converted to a hospital ship on the 13th November 1915.
She had made several successful trips to the Aegean to pick up sick and wounded men. On this trip, she was making her way to pick up patients. On board was a crew of 673 plus a staff of 315 RAMC, and 77 nurses, totalling 1,065 of whom 1,035 were rescued. Thirty people were killed. This included one doctor and eight RAMC orderlies. The doctor was Captain John Cropper (b.17th Sep 1864 d 21st November 1916) the husband of Anne E Cropper of Mount Ballan, Chepstow, Mon. The orderlies were Sergeant W Sharpe, Privates GJ Bostock, H Freebury, T Jones, GW King, L Smith, and W Stone. All are missing and are commemorated on the Mikra Memoral in Greece on panel 7. The other orderly Private A Binks is buried at Piraeus Naval Cemetery.
HMHS Braemer Castle
This ship was formerly the SS Braemer Castle, a 6,266 ton cargo vessel. She was used as a troopship from 1909. On the 6th August 1914, she was used to transport elements of the BEF to France and on the 15th March 1915 took the Plymouth Brigade of the Royal Marines to Gallipoli. She was converted to a hospital ship on the 15th October 1915.
On the 23rd November 1916, she hit a mine laid by U-Boat U73 in the Aegean Sea. Four of her crew were killed. She was beached, then towed to La Spezia in Italy and repaired. She was recommissioned as a troopship. She was finally scrapped in 1924.
HMHS Glenart Castle
HMHS Glenart Castle was formerly the SS Galician and was a 6,807 ton ship. She was mined on route from La Havre to Southampton with 520 sick and wounded on board of whom 300 were cot cases. All the patients and crew were saved by other ships. HMHS Glenart Castle was towed back to Portsmouth and repaired. We will return to HMHS Glenart Castle in February 1918, below.
RMS Asturias was built in 1907- 8, and from 1908 she was a 12,015 ton ocean liner on the Southampton to Buenos Aires route. She was converted to a hospital ship in 1914.
On the night of 20th to 21st March 1917, after unloading her patients at Avonmouth she was making her way to her home port of Southampton when she was torpedoed by U-Boat UC66 just off the coast of Devon. The captain beached her at Salcombe, Devon but 35 people died because some of the lifeboats were launched prematurely. Of the 35, there was one Doctor, one Nurse and 12 RAMC orderlies.
The doctor was Captain George Louis Atkinson RAMC. He is buried at Plymouth (Ford Park) Cemetery plot L-25-10. The Nurse was Staff Nurse JJ Phillips (b 21st March 1889 d 21st March 1917) aged 28. She was born in Moolton, Bengal. Her father was a police superintendent, Fredrick William Phillips, and her mother Josephine Maud Phillips. Staff Nurse Phillips is commemorated on the Hollybrook Memorial, Southampton panel 38
HMHS Gloucester Castle
Formerly the SS Gloucester Castle, she was a 7,999 ton ship converted as a hospital ship in 1914. On the 31st March, while on route from Le Havre to Southampton she was torpedoed by U-Boat U32 just off the coast of the Isle of Wight. She had on board 399 patients of whom 396 were saved by trawlers and other craft but unfortunately three patients died in the transfer. The crew stayed on board and the ship was towed into port and repaired and returned to service.
Note: The HMHS Gloucester Castle was torpedoed and sunk in WW2.
The SS Salta was a 7,284 ton passenger liner. She was converted to a hospital ship in February 1915. On the 10th April, she was entering Le Havre harbour with medical supplies and to pick up sick and wounded when she hit a mine laid by U-Boat U26. There is some confusion on the number of people lost. Most accounts have 42 staff of the RAMC, 79 crew and nine nurses, a total of130. What we do know for certain are the names of the nine nurses, and their details are given in Appendix 1 at the end of this article, including one from Tywyn.
Note. Private Arnold Bodworth RAMC was awarded the Albert Medal. “He remained in a swamped boat to support an unconscious nursing sister, enabling her to be hauled onboard the destroyer HMS Druid.”
SS Lanfranc was a 6,287 ton ocean liner converted to a hospital ship at the outset of the war in 1914. On the 17th April 1917, she was torpedoed by U-Boat U40 when she was on route from Le Havre to Southampton. There were 387 patients on board which included 27 German Officers and 140 German other ranks. While she was sinking, patients, medical staff and crew were rescued by the escort ships but unfortunately 35 people died, that is 15 British, 15 German and five crew.
SS Donegal was a 1,885 ton ferry on the Heysham to Belfast route from 1904 to 1914. She was converted into a hospital ship in February 1915.
On the 17th April 1917, she was sailing from Le Havre to Southampton with 617 wounded and 70 crew onboard. She had a Royal Navy escort. She was torpedoed by U-Boat U21 in the English Channel. Most of the casualties and crew were rescued but 29 wounded and 12 of the crew lost their lives.
HMHS Dover Castle
Formerly the SS Dover Castle, she was a 8,271 passenger /cargo ship which had been converted into a hospital ship. On the 26th May 1917, she was on route from Malta to Gibraltar full of an unknown number of casualties when she was torpedoed by U-Boat U67. All her casualties and RAMC staff were evacuated to HMS Cameleon. Six engine room crew and one other crew member were killed in the initial explosion.
The SS Goorkha was a 6,287 ton passenger/cargo ship on the East African routes which had been converted into a hospital ship in 1915. On the 10th October 1917, she was mined off Malta with 362 patients on board. All patients, RAMC Staff and crew were rescued . The ship was towed into Malta and repaired.
The SS Rewa was a 7,279 ton passenger/cargo ship on the India routes, which had been converted to a hospital ship in 1915. On the 4th January1918, she was on route from Malta to Britain with 279 casualties on board. She was torpedoed by U-Boat U55 off the coast of Devon. Four naval crew were killed in the engine room in the initial explosion. The ship took two hours to sink. This allowed all the casualties and crew to take to the life boats and be rescued.
HMHS Glenart Castle
We now return to HMHS Glenart Castle. On the 26th February 1918, she was on route from Newport, South Wales to Brest in France on board were 120 crew, seven RAMC Officers, eight Nurses and 47 RAMC orderlies, totalling 182. In the Bristol Channel, she was torpedoed by U-Boat UC 56. She sank quickly but some of the life boats were lowered. There are some reports that the Germans machine gunned the life boats. Only 25 crew and 4 RAMC orderlies survived, a total of 29. One hundred and fifty three people were either drowned or shot that day. Of the eight nurses, we do have some information – see Appendix 2.
All are commemorated on the Hollybrook Memorial, Southampton, panel 41
HMHS Guildford Castle
The SS Guildford Castle was a 7,995 passenger/cargo ship which had been converted on the 22nd September 1914 to a hospital ship which saw service in the Gallipoli and East African campaigns.
On route back to Avonmouth on the 10th March 1918, she was torpedoed by U-Boat U55 but the torpedo did not explode. Although damaged, HMHS Guildford Castle limp into port. She reported no casualties.
HMHS Llandovery Castle
The SS Llandovery Castle was built in 1914. She was a 10,639 ton ocean liner, converted into a hospital ship 26th July 1916. She was one of five Canadian hospital ships.
In June 1918, she took 644 patients to Halifax, Nova Scotia. On her return journey to Liverpool she had 258 people on board, consisting of the crew, RAMC Staff and 14 Nurses. She was torpedoed off the South Coast of Ireland by U-Boat U55. The ship quickly sank, and some of the life boats were lowered but these were run down and machine gunned by the submarine. Only one life boat with 24 people on board survived to report on what was the deadliest Canadian naval disaster of the war, as 234 people were either drowned or machine gunned that day, including the 14 Nurses. The names of the nurses who died are in Appendix 3. All are commemorated on the Halifax Memorial.
This ship and others were part of the Leipzig Trials after the war, when the captains of some of the submarines were accused of war crimes. There is much more to come out of this event. (Editor’s note: there is an account of the trials available online).
The SS Warilda was a 7,713 ton passenger ocean liner, converted to a hospital ship. On 25th July 1918, she was operated by the Australian Navy and was on route from Le Havre to Southampton carrying 471 sick and wounded, of whom 439 were cot cases. She was torpedoed by U-Boat U49 on the 3rd August 1918. Of her casualties, she lost 115 patients, one RAMC orderly and one Australian Army Nursing Service nurse. All are commemorated on the Hollybrook Memorial Southampton.
RMS Leinster was a 2,646 ton passenger/mail ship on the Holyhead to Dun Laoghaire (Kingstown) route. She was not technically a hospital ship but she was used to ferry back home sick and wounded soldiers to Ireland. On the 10th October 1918, she was returning to Holyhead with 771 passengers and crew. At about 4 nautical miles out of Kingstown harbour, she was torpedoed by U-Boat U123. The first torpedo did not explode. The U-Boat then fired two more. The ship exploded and sank with a death toll of 501 passengers. There were a number of military personnel, RAMC Staff, nurses and VADs lost. Some of the nurses were recovered and buried but others were lost at sea. (Editor’s note: it is believed that the 501 casualty figure is an underestimate, as it only comprises those who were definitely known to be on board. Pte Ezekiel Thomas RWF of Glan Conwy was a definite casualty and is buried in Grangegorman military cemetery, Dublin. Lt Col CH Blackburne of Mold was also drowned with his two children and was buried in The Royal Hospital Kilmainham by special order of the Viceroy).
The nurses and VADs are listed with their details in Appendix 4.
Two other ships I should mention are the troopship HMTS Marquette which was torpedoed by U-Boat U35 in the Aegean Sea on the 23rd October 1915. Of the 167 death toll, 10 were New Zealand nurses. They are commemorated at the Mikra memorial in Thessaloniki. (Editor’s note: after this tragedy the New Zealand government forbade the transport of their nurses by sea other than on hospital ships.)
HMS Osmanieh was a fleet messenger ship which hit a mine laid by U-Boat U34 on the 31st December 1917 near the harbour at Alexandria, Egypt. Of the 198 death toll, there were two nurses and six VADs. One of the nurses was 47 year old Margaret Dorothy Roberts who was born in the work house in Dolgellau. She had emigrated to Australia. When the war was declared, she was too old to join the Australian Army Medical Corps. So she returned to the UK and joined the QAIMNSR. She served in Egypt and on board hospital ships. Her body was recovered from the sea and she is buried in Hadra War Cemetery, Alexandria, Egypt. She was a remarkable woman with a remarkable story. Maybe a story for another newsletter!
Appendix 1 – details of nursing staff lost on the HMHS Salta
Isabella Cruickshank was a 48 year old nurse with the QAIMNS. She was the daughter of William and Isabella Cruickshank of Aberdeen. She is commemorated on the Salta Memorial at Le Havre cemetery, France, panel 1
Ellen Lucy Foyster was a 36 year old nurse with the QAIMNSR. She was a special reservist and was the daughter of Rebecca and the late HA Foyster of Worthing Sussex. She is commemorated on panel 1 of the Salta Memorial.
We have very little information on ES Gurney. She was a Staff Nurse with the QAIMNSR and was a special reservist.
Gertrude Eileen Jones was a 31 year old special reservist with the QAIMNSR. She is commemorated on panel 1 of the Salta Memorial.
Agnes Greig Mann was a 25 year old Staff Nurse with the QAIMNS. She was the daughter of Mr and Mrs J Mann of Dundee. She was one of the thirteen bodies recovered and is buried in plot 62-I of St Marie Cemetery, Le Havre.
Fanny Mason was a 27 year old Staff Nurse of the QAIMNSR. She was the daughter of Thomas and Catherine Elizabeth Mason of Settle Yorks. She is commemorated on panel 1 of the Salta Memorial.
Of local interest to North Wales, Jane Roberts was a 30 year old Staff Nurse special reservist with the QAIMNSR. She was the daughter of William and Margaret Jane Roberts of Bryncrug, Tywyn, Gwynedd. Her father was the headmaster of Bryncrug school. She was one of eight children. Staff Nurse Roberts is commemorated on the Salta Memorial and also on plaques in York Minster, St Asaph Cathedral and Tywyn Church.
Clara McAlister was a 36 year old Staff Nurse with the QAIMNS. She was the sister of Marion McAlister of Pulborough, Sussex
Evelyn Maud Dawson was the Matron with the QAIMNS. She was in charge of the nurses on board HMHS Salta. She was 49 years old and the sister of Miss E Dawson of Bromley in Kent. Her body was recovered and here we have one of those mysteries of WWI. She is buried in Etaples Military Cemetery plot X.V.111-D-24. This is 136 miles from Le Havre! Why would they move her? Her headstone reads, “Faithful unto Death”. (Editor’s note: from CWGC records she was originally from Ballymena in County Antrim).
Appendix 2 – details of nursing staff lost on the HMHS Glenart Castle
Katy Beaufoy was a 49 year old Matron with the QAIMNSR. She had a remarkable career in nursing. She trained for three years from 1893 at the Royal Devon and Exeter Hospital. After qualifying she was soon promoted to Sister in charge of the operating theatre. She was made matron of the 80 bed Exeter Fever Hospital in 1899. She volunteered for the second Boer War and was one of the six nurses of the Princess Christine Army Nurses Service sent to the No 18 General Hospital in Charlestown, Natal. On the 17th August1914, she volunteered for war service and was sent to Devonport Military Hospital. From there, she was posted to No 15 General Hospital in Alexandria, Egypt. She then nursed on board the hospital ship Dover Castle and then at the No 29 General Hospital in Malta. From Malta she was posted as Matron to HMHS Glenart Castle. On this ship she sadly died. She is commemorated on the Hollybrook Memorial Southampton, panel 41. Note. Her medals, plaque, scroll and diaries were sold at auction for £14,000 in July 2016
Rebecca Rose Beresford was a 39 year old Staff Nurse with the QAIMNS. She was the daughter of Mrs HE Beresford of Sydenham London.
Edith Blake was a 32 year old Staff Nurse with the QAIMNS. She was the daughter of Charles and Catherine Blake of Sydney Australia.
I could find no information on Staff Nurse Elizabeth Edgar QAIMNS.
Jane Evans, a Nurse with QAIMNS was the daughter of Evan and Rebecca Evans
There is no information on Staff Nurse Charlotte E Henry QAIMNS, or on Nurse Rose E Kendal QAIMNS.
Mary Mackinnon was a 31 year old Staff Nurse with the TFNS (Territorial Force Nursing Service). She was the daughter of John and Flora Mackinnon of Arisaig, Invernessshire.
Appendix 3 - details of nursing staff lost on the HMHS Llandovery Castle
Sister Christina Campbell age 45
Sister Carola Josephine Douglas
Sister Alexina Dussault
Sister Minnie Aenath Follette
Sister Margaret Jane Fortescue
Matron Margaret Marjory Fraser, aged 34
Sister Minnie Katherine Gallaher
Sister Jessie Mabel McDiarmid
Sister Mary Agnes McKenzie, aged 40
Sister Rena McLean, aged 38
Sister Mary Belle Sampson MID, aged 28
Sister Gladys Irene Sare
Sister Anna Irene Stamers, aged 30
Sister Jean Templeman, aged 33
Appendix 4 - details of nursing staff lost on the RMS Leinster
Sister Henrietta “Marion” Mellett was an Irish nurse who joined the Red Cross, first serving in France then Egypt. She was posted to the No 15 Canadian Hospital at Cliveden, Buckinghamshire. She had visited her family and was returning to the hospital. Her body was recovered and she is buried in Mount Jerome Cemetery, Dublin.
There were two blood sisters Margaret O'Grady and Mary O'Grady from County Clare. Margaret was recovered and is buried in Quin Abbey Quin County Clare. Mary was lost at sea.
Sister Sheelah Mary Plunket was a nurse with the British Red Cross and is buried in Glasnevin Cemetery Dublin.
Of the VADs:
Sophia Violet Barrett was a VAD with the St John's Ambulance. She is buried in Kilternan Churchyard, Dublin.
Anna Maud Barry was a VAD, buried at Rockstown Cemetery, Fedamore, County Limerick.
Margaret Dillon VAD, lost at sea.
Teresa M Fannin was a VAD with the Scottish Women's Hospital, lost at sea.
Clare McNally was a VAD, buried at Bothermore Cemetery, Galway.
Reference and acknowledgements:-
“In the Company of Nurses” by Yvonne McEwen, Edinburgh University Press, 2014
I have used many sources over the years to build up my own data bases on Royal Navy ships and nurses of WWI.