The Royal Edward is behind HMTS Corinthian. Taken from HTMS Zeeland. 17th October 1914.
Having carried the C.E.F safely across the sea, the convoy had to take refuge in Plymouth after warnings of u-boat activity.
According to their records, Lieutenants Burtt and Lund were to be appointed to the 17th Labour Company, A.S.C. At some time their appointments were changed to take command of the 18th Labour Company. It was formed on the 17th July 1915 and numbered 212 men, about half Cornish, the rest from London and the south-east.
After three weeks training – living as a unit, marching smartly, and accepting orders – the orders to prepare for travel came. It was no secret that they were destined for Gallipoli – reinforcements for the 29th Division (the 18th later served with the BEF in Calais and Dunkirk). One uniform photo had a message that they were off to the Dardanelles and large hats and new thin clothes would be issued.
They left Aldershot on Thursday 29th July in the middle of the night, travelling back through stations whose names the Cornishmen had heard only three weeks before. It was 4 am, Friday, when they arrived at Exeter but Lady Owen, the Mayoress, was there, and the station was full of people.
“Work begins before daybreak, and every man is supplied with hot tea, a sandwich,piece of cake, an orange, and a packet of cigarettes. Her Fund is in need of assistance.” Western Daily Press
The Mayoress of Exeter (Mrs. J.G. Owen) organised a hospital fund from which, with the assistance of other prominent ladies of Exeter, she provided the many contingents of troops which passed through Exeter to and from Plymouth with hot refreshments during their short stay at Queen Street Station. These troops went through at all hours of the day and night and they had often been travelling for many hours without any refreshment. That the kindness of the Exeter Ladies was highly appreciated was amply testified by the receipt by the Mayoress of letters of thanks from all parts of the world.
Hot steaming tea and sandwiches were ready and Hospitality Fund parcels given out containing cocoa, biscuits, chocolate and cigarettes and a ‘Good Luck’ card.
Western Daily Press
When they reached their destination, Millbay, Plymouth, the men marched from the train right on board their troopship, the Royal Edward. One can imagine Pte. Henry Finch, SS/ 14260 saying “My boy went to Canada on her”. In fact other members of the Company had travelled on the Royal Edward, but now they would hardly have recognised her. Once she and the Royal George were considered the handsomest ships to sail the Atlantic, now she had lost the smart yellow and blue of her funnels, her white superstructure, and appeared as a grey shadow in Plymouth harbour.
The Captain of the Royal Edward, Peter Millman Wotton R.N.R., took command in 1913, succeeding Captain William Roberts. He had previously been chief officer of her sister ship, the Royal George. His career began in 1893, 17 years old, as an Apprentice on the Lodore, a 3 masted barque belonging to P. Iredale & Porter. On his next berth, the sailing ship Hawksdale, he was with Wilfred Harry Dowman another Apprentice, when he saw the Cutty Sark pass “in a manner which could not fail to impress … the inmates of the Hawksdale’s half deck”. By August 1901 he was captain of the cargo ship Aros Castle on her first voyage on the South Africa – USA route.
Before joining the C.N.R. ships he served on the Cunard Line for seven years; his ships – the Umbria, Caronia, Ultonia, Etruria, and Carmania. He was on the Slavonia when she stranded on rocks off the coast of Flores Island, Azores, and the S.O.S. signal was used for the first time.
Peter Millman WOTTON R.N.R.
Captain of the Royal Edward.
A Plymouth man, born 5 December 1875,
Westwell Street, Plymouth.
“He had a splendid sea record of over 24 years to his credit. He served* on several first-class cruisers, including H.M.S. Monmouth, Argyle, Highflier, and Europa, and went through various courses of gunnery and torpedo practice. He was chief officer of a steamer when he was nineteen years of age.”
Western Daily Press 26 August 1915
*had training courses
The ship was already well packed with other troops who had embarked at Avonmouth on Wednesday 28th July. The Royal Edward had cleared Avonmouth and almost at once the Admiralty issued a warning of a u-boat operating off Trevose Head. She was ordered to anchor in Walton Bay with eleven freighters, waiting for orders. At last the bridge saw her four flag international code H.M.D.G. hoist at the masthead of the Port of Bristol Authority’s signal station. The code flag ‘J’ answered and her orders were semaphored: “ To Master from D.N.T.O. Avonmouth. Proceed on your voyage in accordance with the instructions contained in leaflet 112”. She weighed anchor and steamed down channel for the last time.
J = I am going to send a message by semaphore. D.N.T.O. = Divisional Naval Transport Officer. http://www.1914-1918.net/abbrev.htm
Tideway October 1959.
The signalman on duty who semaphored with his hand flags was George Henry James Eager.
Here, in 1909, age 11, he is in his Sea Scout uniform.
The next year he joined his father on the SS Mineola as cabin boy. He was proficient in morse and semaphore and
joined the Signal Station aged 17 on the 30th April 1915.
The Royal Edward was sighted passing east by Lloyd’s signal station at the Lizard the 29th July. On reaching Plymouth she docked at Millbay Dock to receive the rest of the transport.
While at Millbay many men sent home postcards of the Royal Edward saying they were “on this boat”. The postcards could be bought on board and were a printed version on thin card of a real photo.
This version of the card with the title
‘The “Royal Edward”
Entering Avonmouth Dock’
seems to have been published by Harvey Barton & Son, Bristol, when she was a troopship.
The letters O.A.S. (On Active Service) above the address sent them post free.
That Friday 30th. July at 8 p.m. the Royal Edward left Plymouth for Mudros harbour on the Isle of Lemnos, the base for operations on the Gallipoli peninsula. According to the other troops on board, the 18th Labour Company were older ‘broken-down’ men, over 40, who did most of the ship’s fatigues. No doubt they appeared so compared to the regulars and territorials- some in their teens. But the work they were expected to do was no different than that many had done to earn their daily bread in civilian life.
After leaving the Bay of Biscay and its rough seas, most seemed to be enjoying themselves. “Plenty of food and anything you want, barring money” one wrote. For some, it was luxury unknown before.
The Royal Edward called at Malta for coaling, and men sent home postcards and letters describing the voyage and the exciting foreign scenes. They admired Malta harbour’s handsome buildings of white stone contrasting with the blue sea. The Royal Edward was surrounded by small boats of locals selling tobacco, grapes, tomatoes and other fruit – in spite of warnings men indulged and suffered the consequences.
Arrival At Alexandria
The next port was Alexandria. The ship waited for a pilot to guide them to their berth in the docks where they disembarked Wednesday, 11th August. Supplies were unloaded and taken on. The sole horse was sent ashore (thankfully) with its owner Colonel A.G. MacDonald of the Bedfordshires and his staff. He had been the senior officer on board. Captain Cuthbert Bromley, recovered from his injuries, got a lift back to the peninsula and became the senior instead.
The men went on a route march through the city, perhaps feeling strange to be marching as soldiers again.
The Royal Edward was berthed next to the troopship Alnwick Castle carrying Australian and New Zealand troops. The ‘Anzacs’ cheered the ‘Tommies’ when they returned from their route march as the Alnwick Castle left port at 7 p.m.. Mark Trebilcock, Pte. SS/23902, reported to sick bay the next morning and was diagnosed as having I.C.T. (feet)- Inflammation of the Connective Tissue. He was left unhappily behind in Alexandria.
As they left Alexandria on the 12th. nurses on the hospital ship Delta waved to the men. The Royal Edward entered the section of the Mediterranean patrolled by French destroyers and the comfortable routine on board continued.
Between boat drills, inspections, fatigues and mealtimes, a social lifestyle developed.* Friends had favourite spots to meet, letters were written, deck games played. The sea voyage was an interval when they talked of the past and the future and events in Gallipoli and what awaited them. As they drew near landfall thoughts turned to family far off who would not be seen for months or years. Perhaps the officers realised a melancholy mood was creeping over the men and that evening there was a concert. The ship’s Print Room supplied programmes and Captain Wotton and most of the military officers attended. The Glee Party of the 54th (1/1st East Anglican) Casualty Clearing Station performed. Over a 1000 silent souls listened as the notes winged over the darkling sea. One of their songs, “When ev’ning’s twilight gathers round”, can be heard here:
Ref: “The Tourniquet”, magazine of Callum’s Own. Courtesy Andrew Mackay.
* “The loss of the Royal Edward”: Sidney Vinson, Pte. 100 R.A.M.C. Courtesy his son & great-niece.
The morning of Friday 13th promised another pleasant day, broken only by necessary duties such as lifeboat drill and a foot inspection after the route march at Alexandria. It was sunny, the sea looked calm with gulls circling overhead; there was anticipation of journey’s end with the landing on Lemnos next day. After breakfast at around 9 a.m. they saw the hospital ship Soudan pass on its way to Alexandria. Then from the port side a strange sight caught the eye of those on deck: a white line of foam coming straight for them, a line of death………..
By early Friday 13th the Alnwick Castle was within sight of the Aegean Islands. At 8 a.m. she saw the Royal Edward about five miles away coming up on the Alnwick Castle’s starboard bow. Owing to the Royal Edward’s superior speed she overtook the Alnwick Castle at about 9 a.m. and kept fairly close to Kos Island. When she was approaching Kandeliusa Island the watchers on the Alnwick Castle’s deck saw a splash of spray near her stern. Someone said “The Royal Edward’s been hit!” and in less than a minute they saw this confirmed. The stricken ship dipped suddenly at the stern and very soon one of the funnels was under water. The bow rose high in the air, and in under ten minutes the transport with its living load had disappeared.
The torpedo struck the Royal Edward on the port side, aft of the engine-room. There was a terrific explosion, the ship shuddered from bow to stern and for a moment men were paralysed with shock.
There had been no orders to always wear lifebelts, and their next thought was they should get them – but this meant going below to their bunks where they were stowed. Hundreds of men already below, desperate to reach the decks and the lifeboats met on the companion ways the hundreds of men going below. Some were crushed or beaten aside in the panic. The lights went out. Those who reached their bunks were trapped by the speed of the rising water and tried in vain to escape through the too small portholes. Others were overwhelmed by the rushing in of the sea.
A lifeboat was released but the weight of desperate men jumping in as it swung from the ship’s side broke a cable and they were tipped into the water. Another’s release gear jammed and luckily a knife was to hand to cut the rope. The ship listed to starboard and lifeboats could not be launched so officers ordered men to jump. As she sank stern first her bow lifted high in the air, and boats, seats and men hurtled down the slanting deck.
The sea which appeared so calm from the high decks of the ship had waves which turned wreckage into bludgeons, injuring and killing many men who could not reach a boat or raft. The motion of the waves made men vomit and choke. Some who got their lifebelts did not secure them correctly, so that their body was forced upside down and they drowned. There was a terrible roar as the eight boilers broke away and fell down to the stern. As the ship sank men in the water were carried down to her by the suction, some never to rise again. Even men who could swim were exhausted by their struggles and drowned, their hands slipping from wreckage or the ropes of lifeboats.
William Bullen Lund, probably already dying or dead, was seen in the water by one of his men who was clinging to a raft. The soldier pulled himself on top, in spite of the suction drawing his legs underneath. He grabbed Lund by the shirt and dragged him on to the raft as far as he could, with only his legs hanging in the water. He held the Lieutenant for over an hour until a sudden rougher wave capsized the raft and he lost his grip. Lund had not spoken from the time he was pulled from the sea. And even the safety of a lifeboat was illusory: Edward Burtt was struck by a falling mast and died as he sat. Screams and prayers were for ever silenced by the waves.
Heino von Heimburg commander of the small U-boat SM UB 14 that had delivered the killing hit, watched the result of his successful attack. When he first sighted the Royal Edward only her two funnels on the horizon were visible. On closer sight her blue camouflage did not disguise the long promenade decks, funnels, and tall masts: von Heimburg realised she was a desirable and legitimate target. At 1600 metres a torpedo was fired; von Heimburg watched its trail through the periscope till it struck the Royal Edward on the port side, at the stern. A moment later he saw soldiers milling around the decks like ants. There were no destroyers near so Heimburg allowed his crew their turn at the periscope to see the spectacle. Last came the man who had fired the torpedo. He shouted and let Heimburg look. The Royal Edward was now standing almost on end, her bow high in the air, then she was gone, swiftly sliding out of sight. All that was left were eight boats of survivors waving white shirts, trousers and handkerchiefs in a plea for mercy.
It was four to five hours before the Soudan, recalled by the Royal Edward’s wireless operators’ last signals, reached them. During that time men died even in the boats and survivors suffered greatly from exposure and sunburn. When the survivors saw the Soudan they desperately shouted and waved, afraid she would pass them by. A witness on her describes seven boats right side up and four up side down, all with men on them. The sea was strewn with wreckage, and men were clinging to all manner of things. The Soudan spent a couple of hours picking them up before any other ships appeared on the scene. Then some colliers came alongside, and the Jules Ferry, a French torpedo boat, next arrived and picked up a number of survivors. The colliers assisted in the rescue, and transferred a number of men to the Soudan. She delivered 409 survivors to Alexandria.
Private Thomas Jesson, 33245, 34th Field Ambulance, R.A.M.C. to Mr S. S. Platt, Rochdale Borough Surveyor.
126 men of the 18th Labour Company died, the most A.S.C. at one time in the War. They are remembered on the Helles Memorial.
“The Memorial stands on the tip of the Gallipoli Peninsula. It takes the form of an obelisk over 30 metres high that can be seen by ships passing through the Dardanelles. The Helles Memorial serves the dual function of Commonwealth battle memorial for the whole Gallipoli campaign and place of commemoration for many of those Commonwealth servicemen who died there and have no known grave.
The United Kingdom and Indian forces named on the memorial died in operations throughout the peninsula, the Australians at Helles. There are also panels for those who died or were buried at sea in Gallipoli waters. The memorial bears more than 21,000 names.” (C.W.G.C.)
The names of the ASC men on the Royal Edward are behind this corner.
TO THE GLORY OF GOD / AND IN REVERENT MEMORY OF THESE / EIGHT HUNDRED AND SIXTY ONE / OFFICERS AND MEN OF THE FORCES / OF THE UNITED KINGDOM DROWNED IN / THE “ROYAL EDWARD” TRANSPORT / WHICH WAS TORPEDOED ON THE / 13TH AUGUST 1915. / ALL OF WHOM HAVE / NO OTHER GRAVE THAN THE SEA. / “HE DISCOVERETH DEEP THINGS OUT / OF DARKNESS AND BRINGETH OUT TO / LIGHT THE SHADOW OF DEATH”