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WW1 naval tragedy remembered in Southampton

1 August 2018

Flags will be lowered in Southampton on Friday to mark the centenary of one of the city’s greatest maritime tragedies.

Despite clearly being marked with the Red Cross, the ambulance transport ship Warilda was torpedoed by a U-boat mid-Channel as she carried 614 casualties home from the Western Front for convalescence in the UK in the small hours of August 3 1918.

More than 120 people went down with the ship, whose death throes were agonising: the torpedo blast wrecked one of Warilda’s propellers and jammed/destroyed her steering gear.

As a result, the ship sailed around in circles for about two hours at 15 knots – making it extremely difficult to launch the lifeboats, or for her escorts to come alongside and take people off.

In the final months of World War I, Sailors’ Society supported more than 14,000 people from torpedoed ships

Stuart Rivers

Among the most prominent victims was Violet Long, Deputy Chief Controller of the Queen Mary’s Army Auxiliary Corps – the Army’s equivalent of the Wrens.

She was the last woman to leave the stricken ship, having made sure her colleagues were safely off.

Most of the wounded, nursing staff and crew were rescued and subsequently landed in Southampton – Warilda’s original destination on her voyage from Le Havre.

Survivors were taken to the Royal Victoria Hospital in Netley and the Jellicoe Sailors’ Rest, which was based in Washington Terrace (now Orchard Lane) and run by Southampton-based maritime charity Sailors’ Society, which also provided clothing for many of the survivors.

Both the hospital and rest home have long gone – replaced by a country park and apartment blocks respectively – but the charity continues to thrive… and continues to support seafarers.

Flags at the society’s present-day base in Southampton in St Annes Road, Sholing, will be lowered as a mark of respect for the men and women lost on the Warilda.

“In the final months of World War I, Sailors’ Society supported more than 14,000 people from torpedoed ships,” explained the charity’s chief executive officer Stuart Rivers.

“In lowering the charity’s flag we are remembering not just those lost in the Warilda’s sinking but during the conflict.”

The Warilda was originally built for carrying passengers on the UK-Australia run. First she was converted to a troopship to ferry Anzacs to Gallipoli and, later, France, then she became a hospital/ambulance transport between Southampton and Le Havre, moving thousands of wounded from the Continent involved in battles such as the Somme, Passchendaele and the German spring offensives of 1918.

As for UC-49, the submarine which fired the fatal torpedo, she was depth charged to destruction five days later. All hands were lost.

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