HMHS Llandovery Castle
Postcard of the RMS Llandovery Castle
|Name:||RMS Llandovery Castle|
|Builder:||Barclay Curle, Glasgow|
|Launched:||3 September 1913|
|Commissioned:||26 July 1916|
|Fate:||Sunk by SM U-86, 27 June 1918|
|Type:||Ocean liner / Hospital ship|
|Length:||500 ft 1 in (152.43 m)|
|Beam:||63 ft 3 in (19.28 m)|
|Propulsion:||Quadruple expansion steam engines
|Speed:||15 knots (28 km/h; 17 mph)|
|Capacity:||As ocean liner:
429 passengers (213 1st class, 116 2nd class, and 100 3rd class)
As hospital ship:
622 beds and 102 medical staff
HMHS Llandovery Castle, built in 1914 in Glasgow as RMS Llandovery Castle for the Union-Castle Line, was one of five Canadian hospital ships that served in the First World War. On a voyage from Halifax, Nova Scotia to Liverpool, England, the ship was torpedoed off southern Ireland on 27 June 1918. Twenty-four people survived the sinking, while 234 doctors, nurses and patients were killed in the attack. In terms of the number of dead, the sinking was the most significant Canadian naval disaster of the war. (The Royal Canadian Navy had a seven-vessel naval force during the war.) The incident became renowned internationally as one of the war’s worst atrocities. After the war, the case of the Llandovery Castle was one of six British cases presented at the Leipzig trials.
Llandovery Castle was one of pair of ships (her sister ship was SS Llanstephan Castle) built for the Union Castle Line, following the companies acquisition by the Royal Mail Line in 1912. The ship was built by Barclay, Curle & Co. in Glasgow, launched on 3 September 1913, and completed in January 1914. Initially sailing between London and East Africa, from August 1914 she sailed on routes between London and West Africa. She was commissioned as a hospital ship on 26 July 1916, and assigned to the Canadian Forces, equipped with 622 beds and a medical staff of 102.
Under command of Lt.-Col. Thomas Howard MacDonald of Nova Scotia, HMHS Llandovery Castle was torpedoed and sunk by SM U-86. Firing at a hospital ship was against international law and standing orders of the Imperial German Navy. The captain of the U-86, Helmut Brümmer-Patzig, sought to destroy the evidence of torpedoing the ship. When the crew took to the lifeboats, U-86, surfaced, ran down all the lifeboats and machine-gunned the survivors remaining in the water and on the lifeboats. Only 24 people in one remaining lifeboat survived.
They were rescued shortly afterwards and testified as to what had happened. Only 6 of the 97 hospital personnel survived. Among those lost were fourteen nursing sisters from Canada, including the Matron Margaret Marjory (Pearl) Fraser from Nova Scotia (daughter of Lieutenant Governor of Nova Scotia Duncan Cameron Fraser).
Sergeant Arthur Knight was on board lifeboat #5 with the nurses. He reported:
- "Our boat was quickly loaded and lowered to the surface of the water. Then the crew of eight men and myself faced the difficulty of getting free from the ropes holding us to the ship's side. I broke two axes trying to cut ourselves away, but was unsuccessful. With the forward motion and choppy sea the boat all the time was pounding against the ship's side. To save the boat we tried to keep ourselves away by using the oars, and soon every one of the latter were broken. Finally the ropes became loose at the top and we commenced to drift away. We were carried towards the stern of the ship, when suddenly the Poop deck seemed to break away and sink. The suction drew us quickly into the vacuum, the boat tipped over sideways, and every occupant went under.
- "Unflinchingly and calmly, as steady and collected as if on parade, without a complaint or a single sign of emotion, our fourteen devoted nursing sisters faced the terrible ordeal of certain death--only a matter of minutes--as our lifeboat neared that mad whirlpool of waters where all human power was helpless.
- I estimate we were together in the boat about eight minutes. In that whole time I did not hear a complaint or murmur from one of the sisters. There was not a cry for help or any outward evidence of fear. In the entire time I overheard only one remark when the matron, Nursing Matron Margaret Marjory Fraser, turned to me as we drifted helplessly towards the stern of the ship and asked:
- "Sergeant, do you think there is any hope for us?"
- "I replied, 'No,' seeing myself our helplessness without oars and the sinking condition of the stern of the ship. A few seconds later we were drawn into the whirlpool of the submerged afterdeck, and the last I saw of the nursing sisters was as they were thrown over the side of the boat. All were wearing lifebelts, and of the fourteen two were in their nightdress, the others in uniform. It was doubtful if any of them came to the surface again, although I myself sank and came up three times, finally clinging to a piece of wreckage and being eventually picked up by the captain's boat."
The 24 remaining in the only surviving lifeboat were rescued by HMS Lysander. Afterward, HMS Morea steamed through the wreckage. Captain Kenneth Cummins recalled the horror of coming across the nurses' floating corpses;
- "We were in the Bristol Channel, quite well out to sea, and suddenly we began going through corpses. The Germans had sunk a British hospital ship, the Llandovery Castle, and we were sailing through floating bodies. We were not allowed to stop - we just had to go straight through. It was quite horrific, and my reaction was to vomit over the edge. It was something we could never have imagined ... particularly the nurses: seeing these bodies of women and nurses, floating in the ocean, having been there some time. Huge aprons and skirts in billows, which looked almost like sails because they dried in the hot sun."
After the war, in 1921, the captain of U-86, Lieutenant Helmut Patzig, and two of his lieutenants, Ludwig Dithmar and John Boldt, were arraigned for trial in Germany on war crimes. The case became famous as one of the "Leipzig trials". Patzig left the country and avoided extradition; and though Dithmar and Boldt were convicted and sentenced to four years in prison, they both escaped. At the Court of Appeal, both lieutenants were acquitted on the grounds that the captain was solely responsible.
The Canadian reaction was typified by Brigadier George Tuxford, a former homesteader from Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan: "Amongst those murdered were two Moose Jaw nurses, Sister Fraser and Sister Gallagher. I gave instructions to the Brigade that the battle cry on the 8th of August should be 'Llandovery Castle,' and that that cry should be the last to ring in the ears of the Hun as the bayonet was driven home."
There is a memorial plaque to Matron Margaret Fraser and the 13 other Canadian nurses sponsored by Lady Dufferin was placed at the Nurses House of the Elizabeth Garrett Anderson Hospital in London, England.
There are also memorial plaques to the ship at the Stadacona Hospital, CFB Halifax, Nova Scotia, Montreal General Hospital and the Children's Hospital in Halifax, the latter two monuments unveiled by Margaret C. MacDonald.
- Atlantic U-boat Campaign (World War I)
- Military history of Nova Scotia
- List of maritime disasters
- Military history of Canada
- List of hospital ships sunk in World War I
- History of the Royal Canadian Navy
- Military history of Canada during World War I
- "Union-Castle Mail Steamship Co.". red-duster.co.uk. 2010. Retrieved 20 January 2014.
- Goossens, Reuben (2011). "Union Castle: SS Llandovery Castle". ssmaritime.com. Retrieved 20 January 2014.
- Hunt, M. Stuart (1920). Nova Scotia's part in the Great War. Halifax, Nova Scotia: The Nova Scotia Veteran Publishing Co. Ltd. pp. 409–410. Retrieved 20 January 2014. "MacDonald went overseas January, 1915, unattached, with the rank of Major. He was first attached to the Canadian Convalescent Hospital at Bearwood Park. From there he went to Bath, thence to Moore Barracks Hospital, and was later appointed Medical Examiner of the Pension Board, London. He went to France as Medical Officer of a Labor Battalion. He was promoted to the rank of Lieutenant-Colonel and received the appointment of Commanding Officer of the medical personnel of the Hospital Ship Landovery Castle. Lieutenant-Colonel Macdonald was drowned."
- She was born in New Glasgow, Nova Scotia. Some accounts erroneously state that she was from Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan.
- "Matron Margaret Marjory Fraser". Canadian Great War Project. 2014. Retrieved 20 January 2014.
- "The Sinking of the Llandovery Castle". The Great War Primary Documents Archive. 2012. Retrieved 20 January 2014.
- "Obituary: Kenneth Cummins". The Independent. 18 December 2006.
- McWilliams, James L.; Steel, R. James (2001). Amiens: Dawn of Victory. Toronto: Dundurn Press. p. 31. ISBN 1-55002-342-X.
- "Nursing Sisters Who Died Overseas Have Memorial in London Hospital". The Montreal Gazette. 17 September 1938. p. 6. Retrieved 20 January 2014.
- Suttie, Margaret (2008). "World War I Honor Roll". The Alumnae Association of the The Montreal General Hospital School of Nursing. Retrieved 20 January 2014.
- Profitt, Vicki (6 July 2012). "Mary Agnes McKenzie, Lost on the Llandovery Castle". Illuminated History. Retrieved 20 January 2014.
- "Nursing Sister Christina Campbell". camc.wordpress.com. 22 January 2010. Retrieved 20 January 2014.
- Leroux, Marc (2014). "Newspapers Reaction to the sinking of the Llandovery Castle". Canadian Great War Project.
- Mullins, Claud (1921). The Leipzig Trials (excerpt). London: H.F. & G. Witherby.
- "The Llandlovery Castle Case". JSTOR.
- Helgason, Guðmundur. "The U-boat War in World War One". uboat.net.
- Macphail, Andrew. Official History of the Canadian Forces in the Great War 1914–1919 : The Medical Services (excerpt).