Branch Meeting, 25 January, 2014.
The Men Who Lost Their Lives In The Sinking Of HMS Laurentic.
25 January, 1917.
The White Star liner S. S. Laurentic was built by Harland and Wolff at Belfast and launched in 1908. She entered service in 1909on the Liverpool-Canada route.
In the pre-war period she was involved in the apprehension of Doctor Crippen.
When war broke out she was immediately requisitioned to transport troops of the Canadian Expeditionary Force to Europe, after which she was converted into an armed merchant cruiser.
At the end of 1916 the ship was selected to transport 43 tons of gold bullion, at that time valued at five million pounds, from Liverpool to Halifax, Nova Scotia, to pay for war munitions. She left Liverpool on 23 January, 1917, and while on route received instructions from the Admiralty to call at HMS Hecla, the military name for the naval base at Buncrana, in Lough Swilly, to discharge a number of seamen who had fallen ill. She arrived at Buncrana on 25 January, and after the sick men had left the ship, the officers took the opportunity to go ashore and have a meal at the Lough Swilly Hotel. Everyone was back on board by late afternoon and at 5 pm on a bitterly cold night and with a snowstorm blasting the ship at gale-force 12: she headed out into the North Atlantic. At approximately 5.55 pm as she passed Fanad Head about 2 miles off shore, she struck two mines (of six) laid by the German submarine U80, and soon sank in 125 feet of water.
Many of the crew were able to get away in life rafts, but given the conditions, a good number of them passed away before they were picked up by rescue vessels. In total 347 men lost their lives, (1) while 121 were rescued.
The majority of the bodies recovered, seventy one, were buried in the cemetery at St. Mura’s Church of Ireland in Upper Fahan, two were buried in Cockhill Catholic cemetery just outside Buncrana and there are individual burials in Holywood, Co. Down, Arklow and Liverpool.
Another individual burial is that of Lt. W. A. MacNeill R.N.R. (2) on Ceann Lar, in the now uninhabited islands of Heisker, which lay six miles west of North Uist in the Outer Hebrides. Hebridean sailors believed, and maybe still do, that when they drown the sea will always carry their body home. A cairn on Ceann Lar marks the grave of Lt. MacNeill, after his body was washed up there. Ceann Lar is part of the clan lands of the MacNeills. (3)
Many Irishmen that lost their lives that day, amongst them were:
Yeoman of Signals
Whitegate, Co. Cork
Killough, Co. Down
Kinsale, Co. Cork
(2) His name is spelt McNeill by the CWGC.
(3) The quote about ‘Hebridean Sailors’ is from the book The Scottish Islands – A Comprehensive Guide to Every Scottish Island by Hamish Haswell-Smith (Edinburgh, 1996).