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Date: 7 December 1917



The first official intimation of the sinking by an enemy submarine of the Elder-Dempster liner Apapa (7832 tons gross register), though known for some days in North Wales was made on Wednesday afternoon in the House of Lords.

The Elder-Dempster liner Apapa, with passengers and mails, was torpedoed and sunk last week off the Welsh coast. She carried about 160 passengers and over a hundred crew.


Viscount Templeton asked the Government if it was true that the naval escort was withdrawn from the Apapa, lately torpedoed, when in or near the critical zone of her port of arrival.

The Earl of Lytton said the circumstances in which the Apapa was lost were not those described in the question. He could not state what the circumstances were, because it was not desirable to make public the arrangements made by the Admiralty for the protection of ships. If the noble lord desired, he would furnish him the facts in confidence.


The vessel was travelling in full moonlight when first struck. It was the second torpedo which did the greatest damage. The women and children were first lowered into the boats, and as the boats pulled away it is stated that they also were shelled by the submarine and many casualties resulted. Of this, however the survivors are reported to have no reliable confirmation.


The following account of the sinking of the Apapa was given by the second engineer officer, who was on watch at the time the vessel was struck by a torpedo from a German submarine:

"I had relieved the watch at 4 a.m., and found everything in order; the ship was making about 13 knots. About 4.10 a.m. there was a tremendous crash, which shook the ship from stem to stern, accompanied by a terrific rush of water into the engine-room. A torpedo had struck the ship about the starboard thrust recess, and the water striking the bulkhead came pouring on to the starting platform, where I was standing at the time. I immediately called the fourth engineer, who was on watch with me to assist in stopping the engines. After this we went round to the back platform and shut off the centrifugal pumps, to prevent the swamping of any of the boats by the discharge water from the condenser. While we were carrying out those duties the telegraph rang, 'Finished with engines.'

"I then looked into the stokehold to see that all the men had got, clear, and was making my way to the starting platform, but was swept off my feet by the rush of water, which at this time was breast high. With a hard struggle, during which I lost my shoes and cap, I managed to grasp the lever of the reversing engine and from that to the drain cock levers, and so gained the ladder leading to the middle platform, when I noticed one of my greasers hanging on to the handrails round the crank pit.

"Realising the danger of attempting to reach him from below, and knowing that there was little time to lose if we were to escape death by drowning in the engine-room, I mounted the ladder to the middle platform; then, by laying on the grating, caught hold of his hands, and succeeded in hauling him up, but was very nearly exhausted in doing so. I found afterwards that the greaser had been thrown against the middle column by the rush of water and was partly stunned, which accounts for his not being able to get away without my assistance.

"On reaching the top platform I found the senior third engineer waiting for me. He had in the meantime seen that all the other engineers had got away safetly [sic].

"Being very scantily clad (only singlet, pants, and stockings), I made for my room for some clothes, and managed to get hold of a coat and a pair of boots. With those in my hand I hurried to the promenade deck, and found that the boats were being lowered, there being no panic or excitement. On reaching the boat to which I was stationed (No. 8 port side) I found the carpenter and his crew had already got the boat in the water, and partly filled with passengers and crew allotted.

"While waiting until full the complement were got into the boat I put on my boots and coat which act was just completed when there was another terrific explosion on the starboard side, a second torpedo having struck the ship which caused terrible havoc. There was an interval of about seven minutes between the first and second explosions.

"After the second impact the vessel heeled over to starboard, and I could see the end was coming very quickly, so I hurried the two or three remaining persons over the side into the boat, which had to pull clear before. I could get down.

"The ship by this time was almost on her beam ends, so there remained no alternative but to climb down the side of the ship and jump into the water. Although having no lifebelt, being able to swim, I struck out for the boat, and by means of a life-line was pulled on board.

"It was then we had time to look round for the other boats some of which fared very badly. The funnel had fallen across No. 5, and No. 9 was blown up by the explosion of the second torpedo; the fate of the occupants can be conjectured.


"The chief and fifth engineer were in No. 5 boat. They jumped into the water when the funnel fell. The fifth, Mr Marshall, managed to reach No. 7 boat, and was saved, but Mr Guy, the chief, was lost. Mr Guy had been through the ordeal on two previous occasions. Unfortunately, this proved the third and last.

"Mr Brown the junior third, was also lost. He was in the chief officer's boat which met with an accident, causing the loss of of the occupants, including the chief officer.

"The Apapa disappeared about 4.35 a.m. At daybreak our boat was picked up by a coasting steamer, and we were taken on board and very kindly treated. The chief engineer gave me a change of clothing, of which I was much in need.

"We landed about 9 a.m., and were taken to a hotel, every attention being shown to us. Those who required clothing were provided through the agency of the Shipwrecked Mariners' Society. The other boats were picked up by drifters and taken into port.

"The loss of life was mainly due to the dastardly act of the enemy in firing the second torpedo when the boats were in the water."

It will be noted, by the foregoing narrative, that the second engineer of this vessel performed an act of bravery in saving the life of the greaser for which he should be recognised. It is difficult to imagine the condition in an engine-room, and the tremendous risk taken by those on watch when the ship is struck in this vital part.

This case is only one of many in which the engineers and men below have carried on when the water has risen above the platform, in order to stop the engines so as to take the way of the ship; otherwise it is impossible to launch the boats with safety until it is too late. When it is considered that very frequently there are only a few minutes between the time the ship is struck and her final plunge, the necessity of bringing the vessel to a standstill, so to speak, means the saving of many lives.

Imagine, then, the courage required to remain in a position down in the bottom of the ship with the water swirling round, and the danger of explosions from steam pipes into the bargain at the same time knowing that at any moment you may be trapped and all chance of being, saved cut off!


"The Germans would have you believe that their torpedoes are meant only to destroy ships. Their actions, however, prove that they are intended to destroy the lives of people, whether they are connected with the war or not. The torpedoes of the Huns are meant for murder."

Such is the statement of a survivor of the Elder-Dempster steamer Apapa made to a representative of the "Courier."

"The crash of the explosion was enough to waken the dead, and although it was four o'clock in the morning you can take it from me that no one would be able to continue sleeping. The five blasts on the syren which quickly followed put beyond all doubt that the ship was in distress, and that it was a case of every one on deck.

"The Huns in their submarine, lying like a dark shadow on the surface of the water some distance away knew also what the position was, that their shot had gone home and that their victim was doomed. One can imagine, therefore [sic], the devilish glee with which they would put the second torpedo in position to discharge at the sinking ship. It was not as if the first torpedo had failed in its mission of destruction; the ship was going down before their eyes. The second torpedo was sent to murder the helpless people who had rushed from their cosy berths to effect their escape from the hand of death. In this the Germans met with perfect success, and the second torpedo smashed by its explosion one of the boats containing twenty or thirty passengers, many of whom were killed and others drowned."

Asked to describe his own personal experiences, this gentleman stated that he had never witnessed so much tragedy in his life as was screened by this cinema, of real life before his eyes. A few moments later and the ship was plunged in darkness, and the only light was that which came from the moon.

"Passengers," he said, "rushed up on deck carrying rugs and blankets with them and the work proceeded of lowering the lifeboats. One of these, as I have already told you, was smashed to atoms by the explosion of No. 2 torpedo, but the other boats made away as quickly as possible.

"There was a very thrilling experience for those people who happened to be in the boat into which I had been put. The wind and the tide had kept us close up against the hull of the Apapa, and we could not get away from her. When, therefore, we saw the big ship beginning to heel over in our direction, we began to feel very uncomfortable. We saw the huge black hull leaning over towards us and coming down, slowly but surely like the side of a great building which was going to crush down the little craft entirely out of existence. Have you ever had a bad nightmare?

"Somebody called out, 'Let's jump for it.' It was good advice, because our oarsmen were quite unable to get out of the track of the sinking ship. I jumped. And when I recovered from the shock of the cold immersion, I saw the enormous ship, with a terrible rattle as her machinery broke loose, come down with a splash and a clatter, bore her way through the surface of the water, and then disappear.


"I had tried to keep my eye on the little boat from which I had become separated and to my horror I saw the funnel of the ship come down right in the middle of the boat and literally wipe it out. What happened to the passengers I cannot say. Of those who were left in the boat—I fancy others were following my example of jumping—some must have been killed out-right.

"It was a harrowing spectacle for me, and I was glad when—a few moments later—there was no trace left of the hideous incident."

"Captain Toft, who was on the bridge with the chief officer, went down with his ship, and was eventually found clinging to an upturned boat, and was picked up.

"He had shown splendid nerve throughout the ordeal, and it was due to the fine discipline of the crew as a body that not more than forty of the crew and thirty-nine of the passengers were lost. All the boats that were needed were launched, and although the ship went down eighteen minutes after receiving the first torpedo, I believe that everyone had a chance to get away from the vessel. I was in the water only half an hour before I was taken on board one of the lifeboats from which, thanks to the moonlight, I was spotted a good few yards away."


Inquiries in other directions led to the disclosure of some remarkable incidents.

In one lifeboat were three persons, two ladies and a gentleman, the latter dressed in nothing but his pyjamas and bedroom slippers. The trio probably presented as curious a spectacle as could well nigh be imagined. Their boat had drifted to they knew not where, until suddenly land was espied. Tho pyjama-clad oarsman pulled in the direction indicated, and presently the boat bumped and stuck, her bows slightly lifting.

Investigation showed that they had reached land, and were in fact on a famous pleasure beach, where thousands disport themselves every summer. The ladies were assisted out and all three paddled their way on to the dry sands and then ran up the beach, reached the promenade, and disappeared into the first hotel they saw. It was certainly the most unconventional entry ever made into that hotel—these two ladies accompanied by a gentleman in pyjamas!

Then there is the curious case of the deck boy, who was rescued without knowing or seeing anything. He was asleep in the forecastle when the crash came. Leisurely he got up and dressed, and when he had finished the lights went out. He went on the deck, was collared by an officer, who pushed him into a boat, which was lowered and rowed away from the spot without the least delay. To this boy all was blackness, and he did not even have the satisfaction of seeing the big ship go down.


Mr Pentir Williams held an inquest at the Magistrates' Room, on Friday, on seven bodies which were found floating off the coast. They wore E. O. Roper (50), civil engitneer, St. Leonard's-on-Sea; J. Thomas (32), head fireman, Warwick-st., Liverpool; T. Walter Jennings (35), saloon waiter, Evertoon, Liverpool; Mrs Ida Mabel Johnson (44), wife of Mr Edward Odlum Johnson, colonial treasurer, Government House, Sierra Leone; Harold Starling (39), chief steward, New Brighton; Isaac Pembroke, fireman, Sierra Leone, and Harold Hunting (28), a West African trader, whose mother, a widow, lives in London.

The Coroner, in opening the inquest, staled that a Liverpool liner was returning home from an African part, and when off the —— coast was torpedoed by am enemy submarine. There were 400 persons on board the vessel, and he was sorry to say that about 70 lives were lost, among them the seven persons who formed the subject of the inquiry that day. Their bodies were picked up very near the scene of the disaster by a patrol boat, and landed on the pier. The duty of the jury, would be a perfectly formal one—simply to find out the cause of death, and unfortunately the cause was only too apparent. Beyond that it would be inadvisable for the jury to inquire into. It was the duty of the Government, and especially of the Admiralty, to do all they could to protect the lives of persons pursuing their peaceful avocations, but no pledge of absolute security could be given[.] The jury, however could rest assured that the naval authorities were doing all they could to cope with this terrible menace—a form of warfare which the Germans had introduced[.] The seven persons were the victims of what the Germans called warfare; four were members of the crew and three were passengers.

Mr T. W. Trevor (Messrs Carter, Vincent and Co.), who appeared on behalf of the shipping company, said he, desired to express their regret that one of their liners should have been the subject of such a brutal attack, and they wished to convey to the relatives of the deceased their most profound sympathy and to express their abhorrence of such brutal conduct, which was contrary to the dictates of common humanity. The company had asked him to state that they would, at their own expense, carry out all the arrangements for burying the victims.

Mr Arthur Yarwood, a clerk in the employ of the company, stated that he had identified one of the bodies as that of Harold Starling, chief steward, and another as that of T. W. Jennings, saloon waiter on the "Apapa," which sailed from Africa, to Liverpool. Witness incidentally mentioned that the captain of the ship was saved.

Captain C. Mackenzie Norris, R.N., gave evidence of identification in the case of Mrs Ida Mabel Johnson, who, he said, wag 44 years of age and was the wife of Mr Edward Odlum Johnson, colonial treasurer, Sierra Leone.

James Thomas, a negro who was a fireman on the liner, identified the body of John Thomas, his cousin, who lived in Warwick-street, Liverpool, and Isaac Pembroke, a fireman, also a negro, who lived in Sierra Leone. "I was on board the liner when she was submarined," added witness, whose evidence, given in pigeon English, was interpreted by Mr Yarwood. "It occurred off the coast, and the sea was choppy at the time. The first torpedo hit No. 3 hatch on the port side, and another torpedo struck the vessel on the starboard side by the fore hatch. There was not five minutes' interval between the two torpedoes, and the vessel was afloat ten minutes after being struck. There were plenty of boats, but there was no chance to loosen them."

A Juryman: Was there any firing at the boats ?—There were no shots fired at the boats.

Supt. Griffith gave evidence that on the body of Harold Hunting he found papers which indicated that he was a West African trader and was born in Loddon, Norfolk, in 1889. He represented the African Association, Ltd., Liverpool. On the body of E. O. Roper he found papers which showed that he lived at St. Leonard's-on-Sea. By profession lie was a civil engineer.

The Coroner, in summing up, said he assumed the jury were amply satisfied that the deceased lost their lives by drowning, which was caused by the vessel in which they were travelling being submarined. The punishment of the crime rested with the Navy and Army, and it would not be dignified for the jury to pass any rider on that subject. Their best plan would be to bring in a verdict that these poor people lost their lives through their vessel being submarined in the open sea, and no doubt; they would sympathise with the relatives. It was sad to think that they lost their lives.

Mr W. O. Williams (a juror): Was any warning given by the captain of the submarine?

The Coroner: We may take it for granted that no warning was given. Until comparatively recently the Germans did warn vessels and cast the crew adrift in boats, but they don't even do that now. They simply sink the vessels at sight.

The jury returned a verdict that the deceased were drowned through the action of an enemy submarine, ond on the motion of the foreman (Mr J. Griffith, Beehive) a vote of sympathy was passed with the bereaved families.


Five of the victims were buried in the cemetery. The funeral of Mrs Johnson took place on Friday, the Vicar of St Mary's and the Curate officiating. Capt. Norris, Liverpool, attended on behalf of the family, and Mr O. T. Jones for the shipping company.

On Saturday the interment took place at the cemetery of the two coloured firemen, John Thomas (whose wife, a white woman, was present) and Isaac Pembroke, T. Walter Jennings and Harold Hunting. The Vicar and the Curate again officiated, and Mr O. T. Jones was also present on behalf of the shipping company. All the bodies were interred in separate graves.

The body of E. O. Roper was removed on Friday night for interment at Southend-on-Sea, and that of Harold Starling was taken to Formby on Sunday

"Liner Torpedoed off the Welsh Coast." The North Wales Chronicle and Advertiser for the Principality. 7 Dec. 1917. 2.

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