Diary of the War No.16
Today’s First World War Diary entry commemorates the loss of HMHS Anglia on 17 November 1915. Built in 1900 for the London and North-Western Railway, she became one of many civilian vessels requisitioned for war service. A couple of months ago, in the story of the Africa, we saw how railway companies at home built and exported railway carriages to support the evacuation of wounded servicemen from the front overseas. The ferries owned by railway companies also played their part: Anglia‘s peacetime role as a passenger vessel fitted her well for her wartime function as a hospital ship.
It was on one such journey from Boulogne to Dover, carrying nearly 400 wounded soldiers and medical staff, that Anglia struck a mine laid by UC-5 in the Straits of Dover. UC-5 had been active in mining the key route from London to France, laying fields off the Sunk in the Thames Estuary, off Dover, and off Boulogne itself. (1) Following the explosion the boats were got out and the first party of 50 quickly escaped.
The ship then began to list heavily and sank so rapidly that some of the crew and passengers, soldiers and medical staff alike, unfortunately went down with her. The exact numbers are not quite clear but it is believed around 129 persons lost their lives, including some of the wounded.
One of the vessels which steamed to her assistance was the Lusitania, bound from London to Lisbon and Cadiz, a route reflected in her name, by which the Romans had known their province roughly corresponding to modern Portugal. By coincidence, she was also lost to enemy action in the same year as the more famous vessel of that name, as she subsequently struck a mine in the same field as the Anglia, and sank half a mile south.
Anglia was not the first hospital ship loss of the war, nor would she be the last. (In a previous War Diary entry we have looked at the Rohilla, lost on the rocks near Whitby in October 1914.) The Red Cross livery signalled Anglia‘s humanitarian function to friend and foe alike, but was no talisman against minefields, which respected neither nationality nor function. Those evacuated from the front were saved from one hell, only for some to lose their lives in another.
Update 02 December 2015: ‘Twice Shipwrecked in an Hour’. For an interesting article looking at some of the survivors of Anglia and Lusitania, click here.
(1) Naval Staff Monographs (Historical), Vol. XV Home Waters – Part VI: from October 1915 to May 1916, Admiralty, London, 1926