Sinking of the Hospital Ship Anglia 1915
Steam Ship Anglia in 1905
Image source Wikipedia
The Steam Ship Anglia was built in 1900 by Wm Denny & Brothers of Dumbarton in steel with twin propellers and displaced 1862 gross tons. It was first used by the London and North Western Railway on the Hollyhead to Dublin ferry route, and then from 1908 on the Hollyhead to Kingston ferry route.
During WW1 it was requisitioned and refitted for use as a hospital ship and put to use ferrying the injured from France to England. In late 1915 it was mentioned in the national press that it had been used to evacuate King George V from France following a riding accident.
Image source Wikipedia
Only a few days after the journey transporting the King, the HMHS Anglia was sunk. The Anglia was carrying 13 officers and 372 other ranks when, just after midday on the 17th November 1915 about a mile east of Folkestone Gate, it struck a mine that had been laid by the German U-boat, UC-5. The ship was holed on the port side forward of the bridge and immediately began to sink bow first. The bridge was blown to smithereens and her Captain, Lionel John Manning, was thrown from the bridge to the deck below by the force of the explosion. He managed to pick himself up and went straight to the wireless room to send an SOS but after finding the operator injured and the equipment wrecked, went to help with getting his wounded passengers to safety.
Meanwhile the ship was quickly taking on water and it was now listing heavily to the port side. The first two wards had gone under the water almost immediately and there was no hope of rescuing anyone from there. Other wards were also awash but, with the help of some of the more able bodied patients, the brave nurses and crew helped many other patients to safety.
Because of the angle the ship was listing, the crew could not use any of the starboard side lifeboats but did manage to launch just one of the port side lifeboats, so saving about 50 people, before the angle of the ship made launching the others impossible. There was no major panic on board, just calm determination to help get the wounded to safety. Many of the survivors later praised the nursing staff for the help they gave the wounded, getting them into life belts and up on deck, without thought of their own safety.
A collier called the SS Lusitania was nearby and was just west of the Anglia. The Lusitania put about and was quickly able to reach the stricken Anglia and launch two rescue boats. But the situation was already bad as the Anglia was now at an angle with its bow submerged and it's fore funnel and boat decks already at the waterline. The engine was still working and the propellers were racing away in mid air but it is reported that despite the sleep angle of the deck, some 40 men were able to jump to safety when one of the rescue boats bravely passed under the Anglia's stern with its spinning propellers.
Escaping the Sinking Ship
Image source Illustrated London News 27 November 1915
The returning two rescue boats from the Lusitania had managed to picked up many survivors but, just as these survivors were being helped aboard, there was a terrific explosion from under the Lusitania, causing it to flounder. The two small boats quickly rescued the Lusitania's crew, along with the survivors from the Anglia, before the Lusitania turned turtle and floated for a while with its keel upwards. The people in the two small boats were then transferred to a larger vessel. Other vessels raced to the scene to help with the rescue including HM Torpedo Boat No. 4, HMS Hazard, HMS Ure, War Department vessel Langton and the SS Channel Queen.
Within 15 minutes of being mined, the Anglia gave a sudden lurch and turned partially on her side and went down settling, almost upright, on the seabed with the tops of her masts standing just above the level of the water.
Photographs of the sinking of the Anglia - click image to enlarge
Image source Illustrated London News 08 January 1916
In addition to the Anglia ship's own crew there were 385 patients as well as doctors, nurses and some 'able bodied' stretcher bearers etc., on board. Despite the closeness to shore and the speed that the rescue vessels managed to reach the scene, some 164 people are thought to have died. This included 1 Nursing Sister, 9 R.A.M.C. Staff, 4 Army Officers, 125 Other Ranks and 25 Crew. [I have not been able to track down all the names but 4 officers, one nurse and 129 men were listed in the Times of 29 November 1915 and one more soldier on the 22 January 1916.] Bearing in mind that this was a hospital ship with possibly as many as 200 bed-bound patients and many others who had lost limbs or had major trauma and blast injuries the losses could have been much, much, higher.
Within a few hours, survivors were placed on board hospital trains with many arriving in Epsom to be treated in the local War Hospitals. J.R. Lord, in his book The Story of the Horton - Co. of London - War Hospital: Epsom, describes the arrival of some of the survivors:
Survivors of the "Anglia" admitted. - The night of 17th November, 1915, will never be forgotten, for it was the occasion of the admission of 112 soldiers and two sailors, survivors of the hospital ship Anglia, which had been mined and sunk in the Channel. A cabin boy, from the collier Lusitania, was also admitted, his ship having been sunk while engaged in noble rescue work. The disaster took place about mid-day, and shortly after 8 p.m. I had the worst of the survivors safe in the wards. All, more or less, were suffering severely from immersion in the sea, and many were severely wounded. Their condition on arrival was most pitiable. I had a huge pile of blankets waiting at the station, in which the patients were at once wrapped, and the journey to the hospital was made in record time. On arrival there every means were taken thoroughly to restore life, many being dazed and others partly or completely unconscious. They had gone through a terrible experience; some had been twice immersed, and had lost all they possessed; some even lost their pyjamas and were admitted quite naked but for blankets. Two of them it was impossible to identify, one of whom died very soon without ever returning to consciousness or uttering a word. It was not until the day fixed for the funeral that, with the assistance of the War Office Casualty Department, and the ring the patient was wearing, I was able to surmise who he was. I postponed the funeral for a day, and sent for the relatives, who satisfactorily identified him just before he was buried. The other "unknown" was suffering from a fractured skull, and in his delirium uttered words which belonged to no language we were acquainted with. I suspected paraphasia, but on the night of admission it was rumoured he was a German from his appearance and language, and some ugly threats were heard from other patients in the ward, who were highly incensed at the whole affair, especially as the survivors were convinced that the ship had been torpedoed. The story was that the Anglia had been dodged (sic) by a strange foreign-looking vessel, which had done the dastardly deed, and that the "unknown" speaking the foreign language had fallen overboard and been rescued with those from the Anglia. It was known there were no German prisoners on board the Anglia. However, though the story was scarcely credible, I wished to avoid any trouble with the other patients, so I had the patient moved to a wing of "A" hospital, and put in safety under an armed guard from a neighbouring camp for a few days, and set about the work of identification. It took some days, and several missing soldiers' relatives were sent for without success. At last, however, the right relatives were found and he was correctly identified. We had good ground for our mystification regarding his language, for he was a paraphasic Welshman trying to speak his native tongue. He never regained consciousness, in spite of every effort to repair his skull, and died on December 7th.
Message from the King. - On the morning following the arrival of the survivors of the Anglia, I received by telephone the following gracious message from H.M. the King, which I read to the patients congregated in the recreation hall and published in a special order :-
"His Majesty the King desires that a special message of sympathy be conveyed to all Anglia patients, and has expressed the hope that they may quickly recover from their trying experience."
Lady St. Helier's "Anglia" Relief Fund. - Lady St. Helier, made an appeal in the Press for funds to relieve the more urgent necessities of these men on discharge, and succeeded in raising £364, from which grants were made to all the survivors in this hospital and elsewhere. She was ably assisted by the Press, to whom she was very grateful, the Anglia patients much appreciating the visits of its many representatives, including, among others, those of the it "Daily Telegraph," "Daily Mail," "London Illustrated News," "Illustrated News Agency," "Daily Mirror" and "Daily Sketch."
Some of the survivors being treated in Horton (County of London) War Hospital, Epsom
We know that one of the wounded men on board the Anglia survived the sinking and after recovering returned to France only to die on the battlefield - read about Private John Thomas Branston WOODWARD on the Rutland Remembers
The Rev Herbert Butler Cowl, an Army Chaplain, had been severely wounded during heavy enemy bombardment at the front and was onboard the Anglia when it was attached. For his part in saving lives on that fateful day he was awarded the Military Cross Medal. The story of his experiences during the Great War are recounted in The Half-Shilling Curate, a personal account of war & faith 1914-1918
which was written by his grand daughter Sarah Reay - for more details see www.halfshillingcurate.com/
Written by Peter Reed in September 2012
following a suggestion by David Brooks
Updated August 2017