Remembering on ANZAC Day 2017 all those who lost their lives when the SS. "Ballarat" was torpedoed on 25th April 1917.
S.S. “Ballarat” was a cargo and passenger liner built in 1911 by Caird &
Company in Scotland for the P & O Company and sailed the route from Britain
was one of the many passenger liners requisitioned by the British Admiralty and
converted for war service during the First World War. The ship initially served as an Indian
transport vessel before becoming a troopship, carrying Australian troops to
February 1917, the “Ballarat” left Melbourne in Australia en route for the port
of Devonport in the UK, with 1,602 Australian troops who were reinforcements
from Victoria for the 2nd and 4th Australian Brigades. She also carried a general cargo which included
copper and bullion. The voyage was the ship’s thirteenth, which caused concern
amongst some of the troops on board.
April, as she reached the English Channel, the Australian officers arranged a
memorial service to commemorate Anzac Day.
At 14.00 hrs, as preparations were underway, a massive explosion tore a
hole in the starboard side of the ship and the “Ballarat” started taking water.
Despite a number of lookouts and an escorting destroyer, nobody saw the U-boat UB-32
approach and fire a torpedo.
were summoned to take the Australian soldiers and crew off the sinking vessel
and within an hour all of them had been safely rescued. The “Ballarat” was
taken in tow but sank in the early hours of the following morning,
approximately 9 miles south of Lizard Point, Cornwall, UK, where the wreck
of Ballarat, Commander G. W. Cockman, RNR, DSO, received the congratulations of
the Admiralty and the Australian troops were congratulated by the King.
January 1917 the German Emperor, in a message to the Chief of the Naval Staff,
issued an order that changed the course of the war by sea and land: ‘I command that the unrestricted U-boat
campaign shall begin on February 1st in full force’.
of April 1917 was the most disastrous to British Merchant Shipping in the
War. No fewer than 997 lives were lost… The torpedo attacks were in nearly every case
without warning. (From Chapter 1, "History of the Great War The Merchant Navy Volume
III", by Archibald Hurd, published by John Murray, London in 1929).
sunk in April 1917 included the “Salta” (10th April),
“Arcadian” (15th April), “Donegal” and “Lanfranc” (17th
Ship “Donegal” was a British passenger ferry.
She was built in 1904 by Caird & Co., Greenock, Scotland, for the
Midland Railway Company and operated on the Heysham to Belfast route. During WW1, the British Admiralty
requisitioned several British passenger ferries for conversion into ambulance
ships to carry wounded personnel from France back to hospitals in Britain.
ships were classified as hospital ships under The Hague Convention
of 1907, which dealt with the adaptation to Maritime Warfare of the principles
of the Geneva Convention of July 1906. Ambulance Ships had to be clearly marked and
lit to make them easy to identify. As the shipping losses grew, the UK Government
announced that it would no longer give hospital ships special marking, alleging
that German vessels had used their markings and lighting to target them.
March 1917, a German U-boat attacked “Donegal” but she managed to outrun the
submarine. On 17th April 1917, the “Donegal” was sunk by a German
U-boat while taking 610 lightly wounded British soldiers across the English
Channel from Le Havre to Southampton..
The ship sank with the loss of 29 soldiers and 12 crew members. The
wreck of the SS “Donegal” is located off the coast of South-east England in the
Harold Holehouse, a Royal Naval Reserve Lieutenant from the “Donegal” jumped
into the sea to rescue a wounded soldier.
Unfortunately, the soldier did not recover, but the Royal Humane Society
awarded Lieutenant Holehouse a Bronze Medal.
Two of the crew
members of the SS “Donegal”, Archie Jewell and John Priest, were seasoned
shipwreck survivors, having served on the RMS “Titanic” and survived her
sinking on 15th April 1912. Archie
Jewell had been one of Titanic's lookouts (although he was not on watch when
she struck the iceberg) and John Priest was a stoker. John Priest had been on the
liner RMS “Asturias” when she foundered on her maiden voyage in 1907, and on the
RMS “Olympic” when she was damaged in a collision with HMS “Hawke” in 1911.
then served on the armed merchant cruiser “Alcantara” when she and the German
armed merchant cruiser SMS “Greif” sank each other in February 1916.
Priest went on to serve on one of the sister ships of the “Titanic”- the White
Star Liner “Britannic”, which was
requisitioned by the British Admiralty for conversion into a Hospital Ship. They were both among the survivors when HMHS “Britannic”
was sunk in November 1916.
survived the sinking of the “Donegal” but, sadly, Archie Jewell was killed. John Priest
was awarded the Mercantile Marine Ribbon for his service in WW1.
The S.S. “Lanfranc”
was built as a passenger liner for the Booth Steamship Company of Liverpool by
the Caledonian Ship and Engineering Co. in Dundee, UK. She sailed regularly from Liverpool to Manaus
in the north of Brazil.
and converted by the British Admiralty into a Hospital Ship during the First
World War, “Lanfranc” (named after the Benedictine Monk Lanfranc of Canterbury)
was ferrying wounded from Le Havre in France to Southampton in Britain on 17th
April 1917 when she was torpedoed and sunk without warning. 22 British soldiers and 18 German soldiers
lost their lives.