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Monday, 15 June 2015

One Hundred Years Ago Today…

…. 7000 tons of Welsh coal was sent to the bottom of the sea when the steamship STRATHNAIRN was sunk by the German U-boat U-22 in St George’s Channel. The STRATHNAIRN had loaded at Penarth, leaving Cardiff at 8pm the day before, and was heading for Archangel in northern Russia when the torpedo struck at around 9.30pm. There was a massive explosion, which burst the ship’s boiler and soon the ship began to list heavily to port. The crew tried to launch the STRATHNAIRN’s four lifeboats. However, because the ship still had forward momentum, the lifeboat with the Master, Chief Officer and 19 crew members on board was smashed against the side of the ship. Those on board were drowned. Two more lifeboats capsized on being cut clear of their davits. Only the fourth, launched once the ship had come to a standstill, was able to rescue 11 crew members. The Second Officer, James Wood of Belfast, and 10 Chinese sailors (British subjects from Hong Kong) were eventually picked up some three hours later by the schooner, AMANDA of Padstow. They were transferred to two more ships and eventually landed at Milford Haven. Here they were given respite at the Sailors’ Rest Home, established by the bequest of John Cory, the Cardiff ship and colliery owner. Another lifeboat, even though upside down, provided a raft for the survival of the Chief Engineer and a Chinese sailor. They were picked up by the steamship ABBOTSFORD some nine hours later and brought into Swansea. Out of the crew of 33, these were the only survivors. The body of the Chief Officer, Alexander Stewart, was later washed ashore near Berlan Las on 12 July 1915.

The memorial to Alexander Stewart of Dundee, First Mate of the STRATHNAIRN, erected by his wife Catherine in Llandwrog cemetery. The reference to the ‘Scillies’ in the dedication reflects the initial uncertainty about the position of the sinking.
The names of the lost provide a reminder of China’s role in the Great War. At the start, the Chinese republic declared its neutrality, but in secret President Yuan Shikai lobbied Britain to enter the war by retaking the colony of Qingdao, in Shandong province, which had been seized by Germany in 1898. Some 50,000 Chinese troops were promised, but Britain rejected this offer of military personnel. Instead, China began to provide the Great War’s largest and longest-serving non-European workforce. Some 200,000 labourers were transported by sea direct from China, or brought by an overland route via Canada, often in terrible conditions. They dug trenches, repaired tanks, assembled shells for artillery, transported munitions and supplies, and are also noted as carrying water for British troops in an offensive against the Ottoman Empire in Basra, southern Iraq. Up to half a million Chinese worked on the eastern front for Tsarist Russia. Many returned home, but others stayed to set up communities in Paris, London and elsewhere. Much of China’s Great War contribution is only now beginning to be recognised.

Cambrian Daily Leader, 18 June 1915 – the reporting of the role of the ABBOTSFORD notes that the ship was owned by Thomas William Ward Ltd of Sheffield. Ward’s owned scrapyards at Briton Ferry and Newport, as well as at Blyth and Morecambe. These yards recycled 1000 tons of steel per week for conversion into munitions, railway track, etc, in support of the war effort.

Today, we remember:
John Browne, Master; Alexander Stewart, First Mate (Chief Officer); Benjamin Bruce Evans, Third Mate; James Lionel Pemberton, Second Engineer; Peter Whitehill Houston, Third Engineer; and George Flemming, Fourth Engineer

And the following mariners of Chinese origin from Hong Kong:
Ah Fat, Fireman and Trimmer; A Sam, Fireman and Trimmer; Ah Sang, Fireman and Trimmer; Ah Sing, Fireman and Trimmer; Ah Wong, Fireman and Trimmer; Chang Hong, Assistant Steward; Ching Leong, Fireman and Trimmer; Fung Long, Quartermaster; King Chee, Quartermaster; Leong Ta, Quartermaster; Tan Kee, Sailor; Wong Soo, Fireman; Wong Tai, Fireman and Trimmer; and Yang Tan, Quartermaster.

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

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