Monday, 20 March 2017

Hospital Ship HMHS ‘Asturias’ sunk 20th – 21st March 1917 off Start Point in the English Channel

Remembering today those who died as a result of the sinking of the ‘Asturias’ on the night of 20th – 21st March 1917, among them were two women:

Bridget TRENERRY, aged 64, Stewardess on HMHS "Asturias" (Belfast), Mercantile Marine.
Bridget died on 24th March 1917, as a result of an attack by an enemy submarine.  Daughter of the late John and Mary Murphy; wife of the late Edmund Trenerry.  Bridget is commemorated on the HOLLYBROOK MEMORIAL, SOUTHAMPTON, Hampshire, UK

Bridget was born Bridget Murphy in 1853 in Dublin.  She was married to Edmund Trenerry, a Customs Officer in Falmouth in September 19871 and the family lived in Truro in Cornwall in 1881.    Edmund and Bridget had two sons – Henry, born in 1878 and Francis, born in 1882.  In 1891 the family were living in Southampton and by 1901, Edmund had retired and they were living in Portswood, Hampshire.

And Nursing Sister Jessie Josephine PHILLIPS, a 28-year old Staff Nurse with the Queen Alexandra's Imperial Military Nursing Service, who drowned at sea (from HMHS "Asturias") on 21st March 1917 and commemorated on the TOWER HILL  MEMORIAL in London.  Jessie was awarded the Royal Red Cross Medal during WW1.

Jessie was born in Mooltan, Bengal, India on 21st March 1889.  Her father was Frederick William Phillips, a Police Superintendent, and his wife Josephine Maud Phillips, nee Laville.
On the night of 20th – 21st March 1917, HMHS ‘Asturias’ was on her way from the port of Avonmouth, near Bristol, to Portsmouth on the south coast of England.  She had just unloaded a thousand wounded men to be transferred to hospitals in Britain. She was torpedoed and sunk by a German U-Boat off the south coast of Devonshire.   The crew managed to beach the ship near Bolt Head.

‘Asturias’ was another of the passenger liners requisitioned by the British Admiralty for use as a hospital ship during the First World War. Originally in service with the Royal Mail Steam Packet Company ‘Asturias’ was built by Harland and Wolff Shipbuilders of Belfast, who built the Titanic and her sister ships, and sailed the route between Southampton and Buenos Aires in The Argentine.   She was sent to be re-fitted as a hospital ship and served during the Gallipoli Campaign, in Egypt and Salonika.

In 1915, ‘Asturias’ was the first hospital ship to be targeted by German U-boats.  A torpedo hit her but did not detonate.   A press release issued by the German Government at the time explained that ‘Asturias’, clearly marked as a Hospital Ship, had been wrongly identified as a target.

In October 1916, British writer and poet J.J.R. Tolkien, who was taken ill with Trench Fever while serving on the Western Front, was evacuated to Britain on HMHS ‘Asturias’.

In January 1917, with the British naval blockade causing food shortages and their progress on the Western Front slowed, Germany announced that she would be waging unrestricted submarine warfare on shipping travelling to Britain.  A Declaration issued on 31st January 1917 by the German Government and reported in the British press announced:

“The German Government can no longer suffer that the British Government forwards troops and munitions to the main theatre of war under cover of the Red Cross and if therefore declares that from now on no enemy hospital ship will be allowed in the sea from Flamborough Head to Tershelling on the one hand and Ouesant (Ushant) and Land’s End on the other.  If in this sea zone after the expiry of the stated time any enemy hospital ship is encountered, it will be considered as a v(“Diss Express, 6th April 1917)

Following the sinking of the HMHS “Asturias”, the British “Government announced that measures would be adopted to bring home to the German Government the shameful character of the outrages committed under their orders.”  (Globe, Saturday, 7th April 1917)

Sources:

Commonwealth War Graves Commission  List of Female Casualties of the First World War; British Newspaper Archive;  and http://1914-1918.invisionzone.com/forums/index.php?/topic/134145-hmhs-asturias/&page=3

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