Lowestoft’s trawler heroes of shocking U-boat attack
10:46 24 May 2014
A U-boat raid on a defenceless British liner in 1915 killed more than 100 passengers and crew. Anthony Carroll reports on how the crew of a Lowestoft trawler went to the rescue of the stricken passengers and crew...
It was described by an enraged British press as ruthless murder on the high seas as a U-boat crew mocked their drowning victims.
In March 1915, the civilian liner Falaba and her 242 passengers and crew making their way to west Africa were torpedoed by a U-boat in the St George’s Channel between Wales and southern Ireland.
As the survivors desperately launched lifeboats and leapt into the sea, the crew of the U-boat callously watched on as 104 lives were lost.
But luckily for 116 of the Falaba’s crew and passengers, help was at hand thanks to the
brave crew of the Lowestoft trawler, Eileen Emma. The skipper of the fishing boat, George Wright, from Gorleston, courageously steered his vessel into the danger zone to save the lives of 116 people, including an army officer who took photographs of the attack and its aftermath.
Despite the risk of being attacked by the Germans, the Eileen Emma picked 40 survivors from the sea and then docked alongside the liner to save the rest.
One of those survivors was the captain of the Falaba, the last person to leave his sinking liner.
As captain Davis was plucked to safety, he handed Mr Wright his binoculars as token of a gratitude for saving his and the crew and passengers’ lives.
And on Wednesday the binoculars were handed over to the Lowestoft Maritime Museum by the trawler skipper’s grandson Tony Wright.
The binoculars will go on display next to a silver rose bowl already at the museum that was presented to the trawler skipper by the government to thank him for his rescue efforts.
His 59-year-old grandson had travelled up from his home in Poole, to hand over the binoculars. He attended the event with another of the skipper’s grandsons, Richard Wright, 76, from Gorleston.
He said: “The family are proud of our grandfather. It is better to have his binoculars on display rather than sitting in a set of drawers.”
Mr Wright was one when his grandfather died in 1956, aged 67. His cousin, Richard, has copies of press reports from 1915 that show how the nation was shocked by the U-boat attack. The press called the attack “ruthless murder on the high seas” and described the submarine’s crew as “the murderers who mocked drowning women” and accused them of “laughing their sides out” as the passengers struggled in the water.
And a survivor called Cpl Turnbull told a national newspaper: “The barbarity of the crew of the submarine was frightful. They waited to see the last of the Falaba before they dived but of course, they made no attempt to save us.”
Describing the attack and the press reports, Mr Wright said: “The U-boat crew just stood there and laughed as the Falaba went down. When they returned to Germany they were all severely reprimanded for breaching the rules of the sea.”
The binoculars were handed over on Wednesday to Jim Aguss, vice-chairman of the Lowestoft Maritime Museum, who said he was pleased the bravery of the skipper and his crew would continue to be remembered.
After the rescue the owner of
The Falaba, the Elder Dempster Line, gave the crew of the trawler £125 as an appreciation of their service.
The Eileen Emma was built at John Chambers Lowestoft shipyard. After the sinking of the Falaba, she was requisitioned by the Admiralty. In 1946 she left Britain for Norway.
Richard Wright is looking for any relatives of the crew of the Eileen Emma to contact him by ringing 01493 601584.