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Cardiff Ships and Tiger Bay seafarers took a heavy toll in WW1

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On the eve of the Great War, Cardiff’s trade in coal was at record levels of 10.5m tonnes per annum; there were more than 100 coal exporting businesses and around seventy firms managing over 300 ships. Losses over the course of the war - principally from German U Boat attacks - saw more than 200 of these ships sunk. The sinkings took place not only around the coast of Wales and the British Isles but also in the Mediterranean and off Norway. Cargoes included, wheat, sugar, iron ore,steel, oil military/government stores and, not surprisingly, coal. Tragically there was great loss of life among the crews of these ships.   During WW1, the number of overseas seafarers grew as the British men were called up to fight and many African, West Indian, Arabian and Asian seamen were hired to fill the jobs. It was thought that being recruited from regions of the world with hotter climates, the new crewmen would be better able to tolerate the back-breaking work and the searing temperatures of the ship’s engine room and so the recruits were largely used as firemen, trimmers and donkeymen. Whether or not that thinking was true, they were certainly less able to withstand a torpedo or mine as it was the engine room that was the most vulnerable part of the ship in U-Boat attacks. Many of these were in lodging in Tiger Bay. Analysing our lists of sailors lost to U-boat attacks, we find 319 overseas seafarers that were shown as having lodgings in the many boarding houses in the Butetown and Tiger Bay areas. More than two-thirds of these were employed in the engine room .

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