A Southampton-based charity will commemorate the sinking of the Australian hospital ship, HMAT Warilda, on 3 August with the lowering of its flag to half-mast.
The sinking of the Warilda caused shock and outrage when she was torpedoed in the English Channel by the German U-boat UC-49 on 3 August 1918. The Red Cross marked hospital ship was sailing to Southampton from Le Havre , France, with 801 on board – 614 wounded soldiers, the remainder being medical staff or the ship’s crew.
The torpedo disabled the Warilda‘s starboard propeller, knocked out her steering gear, and flooded her engine room. The ship was stuck sailing a circle at 15 knots, making it very difficult for those on board to launch lifeboats or otherwise leave the stricken vessel. When she finally sank, two hours later, she took 123 people with her.
The 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. The charity’s Southampton port missionary at the time, P. J. Pitter, wrote: “Many of the men were without clothing at all and at the last minute had secured a blanket for covering. Others had very sparse clothing and still were wet, the result of their sudden immersion.
“Outside gathered a great company of mothers, wives and children, and it took us all our time to answer the thousand questions that were put to us concerning their dear ones. One young woman suddenly espied her husband making his way to the bathroom. She immediately ran to him and, embracing him, exclaimed, ‘Thank God, Jack, you are safe!’”
Mansfield-born Private J. Adam Ogden, 19, was not so lucky. He had been wounded three times already during the war, but having been rescued from the torpedoing he died five days later at the Royal Victoria Hospital in Netley.
Another of those lost was Violet Long OBE, the Deputy Chief Controller of the Queen Mary’s Army Auxiliary Corp (QMAAC). She was the last woman to leave the ship, having made sure the staff in her care were safely off. One of those, Charlotte Allen Trowell, told reporters at the time: “I shall never forget the end of Mrs. Long who had been so kind to me. She clung to the boat into which I had been dragged and I caught hold of her by the hair.
“She exclaimed ‘Oh save me. My feet are fastened. I have lost a foot.’ Her feet had become entangled in some rope. Strenuous efforts succeeded in freeing her limbs and a Southampton sailor tried hard to get her into the boat, but she collapsed suddenly, fell back and was drowned.”
Violet’s body was never recovered; she is commemorated at Southampton’s Hollybrook Memorial, along with those lost at sea in the tragedy.
Before it sank, Warilda had carried more than 70,000 troops and wounded and in 1919 the ship’s Captain, James Sim, from Sydney, was awarded the OBE by King George V.
Sailors’ Society’s CEO Stuart Rivers said: “In the final months of World War I, Sailors’ Society supported more than 14,000 people from torpedoed ships… In lowering the charity’s flag today we remember those lost in the Warilda’s sinking and during the conflict.”
The UC-49 was sunk on 8 August 1918, by the destroyer HMS Opossum.