Diary of the War No.9
To commemorate the centenary of the Gallipoli landings, which commenced on 25 April 1915, today’s post takes as its theme two wrecks in English waters: one which participated in those landings, and another transporting Anzacs (Australian and New Zealand Army Corps), so closely associated with the Gallipoli campaign.
The Fauvette was constructed in 1912 for the General Steam Navigation Company, and employed on the London-Bordeaux run, from which she evacuated British nationals when war broke out. Like so many other civilian vessels, she was requisitioned for war service, becoming HMS Fauvette in February 1915, and heading straight for the Dardanelles. By April 1915 she was carrying stores for the Allied landings. On 21 April, the crew of HMS Fentonian, a requisitioned trawler, had difficulties offloading Fauvette‘s buoys: ‘the sinkers were enormous blocks of cement weighing 35 cwt.’ (1) Fauvette continued to see service in and around Gallipoli, Mudros and Suvla Bay until the following year.
On her return to England on 9 March 1916 she struck two mines laid by UC-7 approximately 1.75 miles NE of the North Foreland and sank with the loss of 14 lives. Her position has been securely recorded since 1916 and she was earmarked for post-war dispersal, achieved by 1921. She lies within half a mile of the Emile Deschamps, whose story is told in a previous post, also mined close to home but in a different war.
A few weeks later, 25 April 1916 saw the first Anzac Day commemorating the contribution of Australian and New Zealand troops in the ill-fated Gallipoli campaign. Ironically, it was on the second Anzac Day on 25 April 1917 that today’s second featured wreck was lost. The Ballarat, a P&O liner built for the Australian emigrant service, was another requisitioned ship, serving as a trooper, shuttling to and from Australia.
On her final voyage the men were being mustered for an Anzac Day service when a torpedo, or “Tinned Fish” as one survivor put it, struck her aft on her port side, tearing off her propeller. (2) She began to settle by the stern, so the order was given to abandon ship, but when the engineer reported that the vessel was capable of limping on, the men were recalled and volunteers requested to man the stokehold. As luck would have it, the Ballarat was carrying men of the Railway Operating Division, who were well used to stoking steam engines, albeit on the rails rather than on the high seas!
However, the engine was flooded, so once more all were lined up to abandon ship. Well over 1,500 people were safely evacuated, including the hospital cases: the Times reported that the two nurses and three chaplains aboard assisted the men to fasten their lifebelts. The parade itself, and the continuous boat muster drill they had practised during the voyage, could be said to have prevented this from becoming another tragedy of the Great War. The men were allowed to take photographs, including one extraordinary view of serried ranks of soldiers awaiting evacuation and during the evacuation itself, leaving behind a well-documented wreck. Efforts to save the ship continued, and she was taken in tow, only to sink 7 miles SW of the Lizard, Cornwall.
Wartime censorship meant that the loss was only officially announced on 2 May. The press and the Australian High Commission praised the orderly evacuation, and the sang-froid of the survivors who sent ‘representatives to London to get a souvenir of the event printed in the form of the last number of the Ballarat Beacon, which was being distributed when the ship was torpedoed.’ (3) And a final word: the Times took care to note that 15 of those rescued were also survivors of the ordeal at Gallipoli.
More Gallipoli news: Historic England has just listed war memorials associated with Gallipoli.
(1) “Dardanelles: Narrative of Mine-Sweeping Trawler 448, Manned by Queen Elizabeth: the landing at “Z” Beach, Gallipoli” Naval Review, Vol.IV, No. 2, 1916, pp185-197. URL: http://www.naval-review.com/issues/1910s/1916-2.pdf
(2) Memoirs of Hector Creswick, 15 Company Railway Operating Division, http://www.australiansatwar.gov.au/stories/stories_war=W1_id=103.htm
(3) The Times, No.41,468, 3 May 1917, p6