Galway Castle
 
[For further details and a personal account of the disaster concerning the Galway Castle see under the section headed Margaret Catherine Forrester Murray.  The following are extracts from various reports on the attack against and sinking of the 'Galway Castle]
 
From  newspaper and other  reports: (September, 1918)

The 'Galway Castle sailed on 10thSeptember 1918 from Devonport.  Some of the passengers came by train arriving at about 4 p.m. Monday and went directly on board.  The convoy was made up of 16 steamers, escorted by 2 cruisers and some destroyers.  In ordinary times it was an Intermediate vessel, acting as a mail steamer but for the previous few years had been employed in transporting service men and equipment from Cape Town and South West African ports during the campaign in South West Africa.  It had been built in Belfast at 8,000 tons, with an average speed of thirteen and a half knots, being 452 feet long and 55 feet broad, with twin engines and was launched on 2nd April 1911.

Its normal intermediate route was to leave London on a Friday, Southampton the next Saturday and arrive in Cape Town on Saturday, three weeks later; then up the coast via East London, Port Elizabeth and to Durban.

The 'Galway Castle left U.K. with 744 passengers aboard (including 399 invalided South African military men) and 207 crew with a convoy of 27 boats; 16 steamers and being escorted by 2 cruisers and some destroyers.  There was heavy weather and high seas so progress was slow.  ?Thirty six hours after leaving Plymouth, at 9.30 on September 11th the order was given for the convoy to disperse, the ships bound for the Mediterranean  going in a southerly direction, while the 'Galway Castle' followed a course more to the westward, as ordered by the ship that was to escort her, the armed liner 'Ebro'.?    No longer being kept back by slower vessels, they raised their speed to 11 knots.
 
An account from one of the survivors:  October 1918.

A discharged 'Springbok' soldier in the 1st S. A. I., Pte. A. H. Middleton, wrote to his parents:

'We all left England in high hopes of being home in dear old Africa next month but our voyage was all too quickly brought to an end.  We left Plymouth on Tuesday and were only 330 miles out when the catastrophe occurred. [The sea was running very high] It was just 7 a.m., and we had started breakfast, when we were almost thrown prostrate on our backs by a terrific explosion followed by a thundering crash. [On the bridge, the Captain and others were injured, all lights were extinguished, the wireless out of action and the engines stopped.]  We grabbed our life belts and hurried up on deck, knowing that the worst had happened. [The torpedo hit the port side but exited, leaving a hole on the star board side]  The passengers were for the most part only half dressed, [although Captain Dyer had instructed the passengers to remain dressed and wear their life jackets at all times] and the women and children were crying? they were bundled wholesale into the boats and lowered. ?... everything was mismanaged. [The evacuation of the ship proved very difficult as the breaking up of the decks amidship rendered communications between forward and after parts of the ship dangerous and it was also impossible for all to reach their proper lifeboats]  Only a few boats were safely put off to sea, the others were either capsized or battered against the side of the ship?... [One or more life boats dropped into the sea upside down?. 18 of 21 were launched but few successfully.  Many were killed or injured by floating wreckage and debris]. I feared the ship would break in halves and sink.  In that case we should all be taken down by the tremendous suction.  So I darted off to the bow of the ship and heaved over a number of rafts. [In all, about 40 rafts were launched]   Then we jumped overboard and swam for the rafts.  ? I managed to haul aboard ?... a mother with a three-year-old baby in her arms.  Later on I also picked up three men, which made a crew of seven.  The baby died an hour later of cold and exposure. [The wind was extremely cold]  Poor mother she lost all three children she had on board??we kept afloat for over nine hours and were at last picked up by one of the three destroyers [that responded to the S.O.S. requesting assistance and sent by wireless by the armed liner 'Ebro' which departed fearing to be hit as well.]  Many were in need of extra clothing which the sailors on the destroyer did their best to provide.  We lost everything??.  The situation is simply heartrending.?
[In all two submarine destroyers, an American destroyer and then a cruiser, came to the rescue, bringing survivors back to England].
 
From an interview with 'Weekly News' Saturday, September 21st. 1918 with Winifred Murray:
              
'Regimental Sergeant Major John Murray?? Who is at present a patient in Stobhill Hospital, Glascow ?. and Mrs. [Winifred] Murray, who has relatives in Highberg Road, Hyndland was returning there [to South Africa] with her three children, Margaret (9 years), Phyllis (6 years), and Mabel (18 months old).

Mrs. Murray's two youngest children perished in the disaster, and it was only after she herself had been landed at an English port that she had the joy of discovering that Margaret, her remaining child had been providentially saved.'
'I rushed on deck and put my children into the lifeboat to which they had been allotted.  I found that this boat had been damaged and we had to go to another boat on the same side of the liner, but this one could not be lowered, and we then had to cross to the starboard side of the ship and actually got into the last boat that left that side of the vessel.

My children, and especially the infant, suffered in the crush of trying to get away from the doomed liner, and just as the boat was lowered a big wave washed us against the side of the ship.  No sooner had the boat rebounded than another wave carried us against the propeller, which was even then slowly revolving.

Continuing with great emotion, Mrs Murray stated that when she looked up she saw her eldest girl's feet disappearing under the waves and not far away her other girl, Phyllis, also sank out of view.  Mrs Murray frantically clutched hold of her infant daughter and with her other hand tried to get hold of Phyllis, but just after that a wave washed the baby out of her arms??  The great blades of the propeller as they flashed in the air with water dripping from them looked like so many murderous knives ready to cut us in pieces.  My poor little child Mabel had her head cut and we were all thrown into the water'. [She clung to Phyllis and swam a considerable distance towards a raft] on which two men were perched.  Mrs. Murray hope that her girl would recover, but the effects of the exposure proved too much.

When a destroyer hove in sight the survivors on the raft were in a state of tense anxiety lost in such a rough sea they might not be observed.  The destroyer after cruising about in search of survivors turned away as if to leave the scene and it was only by frantically waving a handkerchief that the attention of those on the warship was attracted.

To their great relief the vessel turned about and picked them up - wet, miserable and exhausted, but relieved at being saved.
[Those on this lifeboat were picked up by the 'Spitfire' and taken back to Liverpool.  The Captain and those members of the crew who remained on board the 'Galway Castle' had been safely rescued by this same vessel, which had approached the sinking ship stern first in order to be able to transfer everyone. The 'Galway Castle' still held together for some time and, later, tugs came to tow the wreck in to shore, but the distance was too great and three days later she sank]
 
Messages of Condolence and decrying this terrible tragedy were sent from:

The Prime Minister of South Africa, General Louis Botha; the Senior Naval Officer at Simonstown; Rear Admiral Marcus Rowley Hill, Lord and Lady Buxton and the Johannesburg Town Council.

As the mayor of Cape Town said, ?The torpedoing of the 'Galway Castle' had brought home to South Africa as, he thought, no other event during the war had done???. And the fact that we were fighting for Christian civilisation against absolute barbarism.?

A Mr Brydon next moved ?That the citizens of Cape Town desire to place on record the sense of thanksgiving for those that have been saved, and their gratitude to the British Navy for its heroic rescue work, and their admiration and appreciation of the services rendered by the Mercantile Marine?
 
Missing Passengers and Crew: (carrying 744 passengers and 207 crew)
 
Saved Missing Total
First Class

35

18

53

Second Class

101

8

109

Third Class

98

86

184

Invalided Troops (details lacking)

399

Crew

173

34

207

Total

952

 
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Contribution by Lucy Tarr:

 

After Dad died in 1964 Mother related a story to me, which she swore I was never to tell to anyone in the family, especially on the Murray side. During the 1930's after Granny & Grandpa May moved to Cape Town, they were staying down at Clovelly.  Granny had gone for a walk and while sitting looking at the sea, a gentleman engaged her in conversation. As they both walked along the path about the same time every day, they got to know each other quite well.

It transpired that Granny told him the story of Winnie and the three girls being torpedoed in the
Galway Castle, which sank in the English Channel.  This man told her that he had a friend who had adopted a baby, which had been picked up after the sinking of the Galway Castle. There were only two babies of that age on board and Winnie Murray knew that the other baby had died and thought her own baby had also perished. This same man told Granny May that the baby adopted by his friends had been taken to a port north of Plymouth and the authorities had spent four months trying to trace the parents but without success. The man told Granny that she must never try to contact the child as it would be very upsetting for the family.  After looking at a photo of Winnie Murray he said the girl looked just like her and he could see a resemblance to Granny May as well. Apparently she was adopted by a General Rhys (spelling?) who lived in the Stellenbosch area and farmed roses.  The man told Granny that the General and his wife had never had children and were very well off and doted on this child. Granny did go to Stellenbosch once, I believe, but decided not to try and make any contact.