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Friday, 27 March 2015

One Hundred Years Ago Today…

The Western Approaches, off the coast of Pembrokeshire, were the hunting ground for the German submarine, U-28, under the command of Georg-Günther Freiherr (Baron) von Forstner. Two liners were sunk within 24 hours of each other. The first was the Dundee-built steamship AGUILA on 27 March. The second, a day later and with an even greater loss of life, was the West African mail steamer FALABA.

The AGUILA was built by Caledon Ship Building and Engineering Co, Dundee, in 1909. The vessel was one of several ships built by the yard for the Yeoward Line Ltd for their fruit importation and passenger service between Liverpool, Spain, Portugal and the Canary Islands. The steamship was primarily a cargo carrier, but could accommodate 82 first-class passengers and had a normal crew complement of 42.

The AGUILA was on passage from Liverpool to Lisbon and Los Palmas under the command of Captain Bannerman. At 6pm on 27 March 1915, the ship began to be chased on the surface by U-28. The u-boat fired a warning shot forcing Captain Bannerman to order his ship to stop. The ship’s lifeboats were then lowered to begin the evacuation. However the enemy continued to shell the AGUILA; the Chief Engineer and two men were killed by shrapnel, a female passenger was shot and a female stewardess drowned when a lifeboat capsized. In all, 20 shells hit the ship before the u-boat fired the torpedo that caused the AGUILA to break in two and sink.

The crew remembered by us today and on the memorial for Merchant Navy seaman and fishermen at Tower Hill, London, are as follows: R. A. Chantler, Boatswain; Ernest Chard, Second Mate; William George Edwards, Chief Engineer; Martha Emily Jenkins, Stewardess; Mathew Kirkman, Donkeyman; and J Peterson, Able Seaman.

The FALABA was sunk in Irish waters, some 30 miles to the west of the Smalls. Over 100 people were killed, including one American passenger, Leon Chester Thrasher, a 31-year-old mining engineer from Massachusetts. The Thrasher incident, as it became known in the US media, nearly brought America into the Great War.

Commemorating all who gave their lives for their country who have no grave but the sea.

If you have documents, photographs or family history information associated with either of these shipping losses, you are most welcome to add them to the collection we have started on People’s Collection Wales.

People's Collection Wales details:

Coflein details:

This general arrangement plan for the AGUILA from the archive of Caledon Shipbuilding Company shows the various compartments for the cargo and the arrangement of cabins for passengers and crew.

A very special thank you to Dundee Archives for allowing us to include an image of the plan on the People's Collection Wales website site.

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