As the First World War entered its second year, the people of Galloway were badly affected by a disaster at sea when many local soldiers were lost in the sinking of the Royal Edward.
The Royal Edward was travelling from Great Britain to Gallipoli with 1367 officers and men, reinforcements for the British Army fighting Turkish forces in the Dardanelles.
She arrived in Alexandria on August 10th and sailed again for the Dardanelles on August 13th, but was torpedoed by a German U-boat off the island of Kandeloussa in the Agean Sea. The ship sank within six minutes with the loss of 935 men.
The Galloway Gazette, September 4th 1915
Headline - BLADNOCH AND MOCHRUM SOLDIERS DROWNED IN THE SINKING OF THE ROYAL EDWARD.
Official information has been received by Mr and Mrs McGuffie, Low Malzie, Bladnoch, that their son, Private A McGuffie, 9th KOSB, was drowned on the transport Royal Edward. Private McGuffie was 20 years of age and joined the KOSB in October last. Before enlistment, he was employed on Knockeffrick Farm.
Mrs McCaig, Mochrum, has also received official notice that her son, Private J McCaig, 1st KOSB, was amongst the lost in the recent disaster on the Royal Edward. Private McCaig was 21 years old and formerly employed in Monreith Gardens before joining the colours last October.
CREETOWN SOLDIER RESCUED
“Two and half hours in the water”
Mrs Mackenzie, Woodburn, Creetown, has just received a letter from her husband, Corporal Robert Mackenzie, KOSB, who was saved from the Royal Edward:
“I suppose you will have read of the mishap to our ship when within a few hours of its destination. You will naturally be in a great state about it. It was a most awful experience, but I thank God I was one of those who escaped. It’s terrible to think that within a space of four minutes that mighty ship and its human freight should be sent to the bottom of the sea. I got into the water at once and clear of the ship, I witnessed the sinking and the heartrending scenes that accompanied it. I got on board the hospital ship that was summoned to the rescue - thanks to Marconi. After being in the water for two and a half hours and along with a number of other survivors was taken back to the port from which we had sailed the day before. Another instance of the ill luck that superstition attaches to the number 13, for it was 9.25 on the morning of the 13th that the mishap took place. I’ll wager the Commander of that submarine gets an Iron Cross. My God! What an explosion!
Well, I must say that in spite of the experience I feel quite fit and ready for another attempt at reaching the peninsula. I never for a moment entertained the idea of drowning and felt quite confident of rescue. I pulled off all my clothing, and was taken on board the rescuer with nothing on but my identity disc hanging round my neck. On reaching port we were re-clothed and taken out to a camp at the casualty clearing station and there I met Adam Birrell! (another Creetown soldier). In fact, I am, on his invitation, sleeping in his tent. He is doing fine here and is quite recovered from his injuries.
I have no idea how long we will be here. Some of the boys are all right, but others have not yet recovered from the shock.”
SURVIVOR’S LETTER HOME
Having survived the tragedy, KOSB soldier Private F H Cameron, from the Isle of Whithorn, wrote to his parents saying: “You will no doubt have heard that our ship, The Royal Edward, has gone under. She went down in less than five minutes, there was no time to lower the boats properly, so they were cut adrift, and other got clear themselves. Soon after she stuck, I jumped overboard and swam about half a mile, then got on to a lifeboat, which was bottom up, and stayed there until we were picked up by the hospital ship Sudan. We were landed at Alexandria, where we got a new kit, as we just had what we stood up in.”
The Galloway Gazette, September 11th 1915
PARCELS FROM HOME
Soldiers serving on the front line were always thrilled to see the post arrive as it brought them news of home from loved ones, as well as luxuries like chocolate and tobacco. Here are a couple of ‘thank you’ letters to those who organised the parcels, the contents of which were received under very different circumstances:
Firstly, from Sergeant Will McRae, from Whithorn, serving in Gallipoli:
Yesterday a parcel arrived here from you addressed to Private Dodds. Unfortunately, Peter is in hospital just now with dysentery, and as we have no means of knowing how he is getting on, the parcel, according to the custom of dealing with wounded and dead men’s parcels, was handed over to be divided amongst the squad he was attached to.
“I, being in charge of the squad, now tender to you on behalf of Peter and his comrades our thanks to you for your kindness in remembering those who are far away from home; and, mind you, this is the place that brings home to many of us the exact meaning of the word “Home”.
And, secondly, from France, John Kevan writes to his pals in Sorbie after a concert raised funds for gifts boxes for the troops:
“I can hardly find words to express my great thanks for the lovely box which I received to-day, as everything was of the very best. I am sure you must have taken a great deal of trouble putting the concert on and then getting each box packed and sent off. I think the piece of poetry written on the concert was just splendid. Of course, we are only out here “doing our bit”. It is all for the ‘Old Flag’; as long as God spares us in health and strength it isn’t so bad and if it is his will we shall come through it.
“I only wish the war was at an end (although I have only been out here ten weeks). However, we have to wait and we must count ourselves very lucky indeed to be alive.”