100 years ago – the steam ship Boscastle was sunk on 7 April 1918 by U-111
SS Boscastle was built in West Hartlepool for E. Jenkins and Co., Cardiff. Her description at the launch in 1912 were as follows:
“Length over all, 309ft.; breadth, 44ft. 9in.; and depth, 32ft. 1 in., with long bridge, poop, and top-gallant forecastle.
The saloon, staterooms, captain’s, officers, and engineers’ rooms, etc., will be fitted up in houses on the bridge deck, and the crew’s berths in the forecastle.
The hull is built with deep frames, cellular double bottom, and large aft peak ballast tank, five steam winches, steam steering gear amidships, hand screw gear aft, patent direct steam windlass, large patent vertical donkey boiler, stockless anchors, telescopic masts, with fore and aft rig, and all requirements for a first class cargo steamer.
Triple-expansion engines are being supplied by the Central Marine Engineering Works of the builders, having cylinders 22in., 36 in., and 60in. diameter, with a piston stroke of 39in., and two large steel boilers for a working pressure of 180lbs. per square inch”.
The naming ceremony was performed by Mrs. Jenkins, Cardiff, wife of the owner.
The Boscastle was chartered by the Admiralty for war work and at the time of her sinking she was carrying Welsh steam coal from Barry in South Wales for the British Fleet of warships stationed at Scapa Flow.
The German submarine, U-111, was built early in 1917 at Vegesack, Germany, by Bremer Vulcan under subcontract to the Germaniawerft in Kiel and launched on the 5 September 1917. She arrived in her first patrol area near St. George’s Channel during the first week in April. On the 7, she sighted her first target, the 2,346-ton S.S.Boscastle. The submarine made a surface torpedo attack and sank the ship with a single torpedo.
9 days after Armistice (11 November 1918) U-111 was surrendered and interned at Harwich. The following April she was given to the United States Navy and ended her life as target practice in 1921.
Among the eighteen crew who lost their lives that day were:
- Samuel Lewis captain aged 44 of the Boscastle. He was the Son of William and Susan of Brixham, Devon and married to Matilda Lewis of Cardiff.
- David Thomas, Able Seaman aged 68. David was born at Aberporth, the son of Mr. and Mrs. Margaret Thomas and he had served at sea for many years prior to the war. When not at sea he lived with his wife Mary Thomas (nee Evans), at 200, City Road, Cardiff.
- Alexander Dryland, cook and steward, aged 49 of 22 Saltmead Road, Cardiff
- Thomas Jones, First Engineer aged 55, the son of Phillip and Elizabeth Jones & husband of Lily May Jones (nee McNamara), of 147, St. Helens Avenue, Swansea. He was born at Skewen, Neath
- Harry White, Ordinary Seaman aged 17, son of Lucy White (Nee Pike), of 33, Glebe St., Penarth
Among those killed were also four seamen from India they are all listed as “Fireman, Indian Merchant Service”
Their names were:
- Abdul Ali
- Ahmad Husam
- Ali Husam
No further details are given for these men. It was not surprising to have Indian crew on board British merchant ships, and crews were often composed of at least 30% nationalities other than British. Indian or African crewmen worked below decks in the stokehold of the ship stoking the fires with coal as ‘firemen’, this was hot, hard and dangerous work and when the ship was attacked by U-boats they were the most vulnerable to exploding boilers and being trapped on board as the ship sank. Work is being undertaken to explore the role of BAME seafarers in the War at Sea and the U-boat project is looking at the diverse crews who served on board the ships sunk around the Welsh coast during the First World War.
The ‘U-Boat Project’ commemorates the Great War at Sea around the coast of Wales. It is a 2-year Heritage Lottery Funded partnership project led by the RCAHMW, with an overall value of £1M, which provides unprecedented access, for the first time in 100 years, to the remains of 17 wrecks on the seabed off the Welsh coast which are part of our Great War heritage, but which remain under-researched and under-valued.
More information about the project’s aims and funding can be found here:
Further information may be obtained by contacting: