Home » HMHS Glenart Castle – The Sinking
From The Graphic 1918

Evidence given at the Admiralty Court of Inquiry held 27th February 1918 :

Alfred Bale (greaser) was just going on watch at 04.00 and had just got to the top of the ladder to the engine room when there was a loud explosion and all the lights went out. ” I at once made my way along the starboard alleyway into the after well deck and then up to the boat deck to the port forward lifeboat and helped to clear and lower it. We had just got the boat into the water when I heard the Chief Officer shout ‘Every man for himself’. I then slid down the boat’s fall with two other men but before we could cast the falls adrift, the ship sank and I was thrown out of the boat. When I came to the surface I saw a boat, bottom up with 3 men clinging to it and made my way towards it and hauled myself up on the keel. Soon after I saw what I took to be a schooner coming towards us and we all shouted together, a lot of men close to us in the water also shouted. A minute or two after, I saw it was not a schooner but a submarine on the surface and I said to the man next to me ‘We can expect nothing from him,it is the submarine’. The submarine was not more than 100 yds away then and I could distinctly see the outline of the hull and the conning tower. About half an hour later a raft drifted alongside and I got on board to make more room for the men on the boat. I held on tothe boat for a time but had to let go. I did not see the men in the boat again.”

Alfred Bale was picked up from the water 10 hours later by the destroyer USS Parker.

Jacob Sheler was Quartermaster of the Glenart Castle and was at the wheel when the torpedo struck. At about 3am he had seen a bright light low on the starboard bow. Both he and the lookout saw it again half an hour later, now broader on the bow. The torpedo struck at 3mins to four, in number three hatch, just abaft the engine room. The Captain ran onto the bridge, rang the engine room to stop engines and blew the ships whistle five or six times. There was no time to use distress signals but the Captain ordered the wireless man to send out the SOS but it was never received by anyone, probably because the generators failed so quickly. The Captain said to Sheler “Now my lad, jump into the boat or you will get drowned” and went back into the chart room. Lieut. Cmdr. Burt was not seen again.

Thomas Matthews was Bosun’s Mate on board the Glenart Castle. “I was just going to turn in at the time which was 5 or 6 minutes to four. I was talking to my mate about coffee and I said that it was all ready for him and then the vessel was hit. The torpedo struck us and we made for the decks. We went up on the boat deck and waited for orders. When we heard the whistle blow (steam whistle) we lowered our boats. That is the order to lower, not the station. The steam whistle being blown is the order to lower our boats. We lowered our boats and as we were lowering them the ship’s stern was on the water. We just happened to shove the boat clear of the davits as she was going down,and we remained there and never moved an oar until she settled. That is all.”
Thomas Mathews went on to say that he saw seven lifeboats get away with people in them and two more empty ones floated off the poop. His boat remained in the neighbourhood of the sinking for about three quarters of an hour but saw nothing of the other boats. His boat contained 22 survivors, 19 crew and 3 RAMC and was landed at Swansea having been picked up by a French yawl six miles north of Lundy. Asked if there was any orders given for the Nurses to be put into the boat first he said there was no time to do anything, the ship sank in seven or eight minutes and there was no time to rescue anybody – they merely had the order to lower boats.

Thomas Casey (fireman) was turned in when the ship was struck.”I went along the alley but I had to come back again because the explosion had blown up all the after hatches – I had to return. I went up to the saloon deck. When I ran along to get tomy boat station I asked the Bosun ‘How is it Tom’! He said ‘Stand by’! He sang out asking where the Sister was. He told me to stand by the after fall. Then we waited until he gave orders, and when the whistle blew we were told to lower the falls. We were told to get the boat half way down – to lower it down to the next deck. She had two decks. We lowered it down to the saloon deck to take in people. He then saw that the blocks were alright and we lowered away then. I chucked the fall clear and I went on the falls and shinned down.” He saw three boats floating on the sea ahead of him on the port side. The suction of the ship sinking forced his boat away and he could not be certain if the other boats carried lights. His boat was picked up at about half past ten next morning. He concluded by saying “There was such a heavy sea running that I doubt if the other boats have lived in it”.

Trawler Swansea Castle
Trawler Swansea Castle

John Hill 2nd Hand of the fishing trawler “Swansea Castle” gave his evidence. “We were coming into Lundy Island. When we sighted Lundy, I called the skipper and he told me to keep her in N by E and said that if I saw any lights I was to call him or when I got the light of the Lundy North Light bearing E by N. I was also to awake him if I saw any trawlers. As we were steaming along I look around with the glasses and away in the starboard rigging I saw the Hospital Ship with green lights all around her – around the saloon. She had her red side lights shewing and mast-head light, and also another red light which I suppose was the Red Cross light. We were steaming North and she was going W by N. As we were steaming along I did not know whether to alter course, but her speed took her across our head clear of us – she crossed our bow. When she got right ahead all her lights went out. When the lights went out, I turned around with the glasses in my hand to see that she went clear of us and I saw the vessel in the moonlight. Every light on board had suddenly disappeared. Of course that made me think that something was wrong and I remarked to my mate at the wheel that it was funny. Therefore, after I spoke to him, I picked up my glasses and looked around the horizon in order to see whether I could discover anything at all. As I came around with my glasses to about the NE I saw something on the water, so also did my mate, with no lights. As I looked at it, my mate said ‘What is that, Jack?’ I said I did not know, but that it was rather funny. It looked like a Noah’s Ark. After speaking to him I put the glasses down. I said a few more words and when I looked again the object had disappeared. As soon as I saw that object disappear such a thing as a submarine was far from my mind, but my mate said to me instantly ‘A submarine, Jack – call the Skipper!’ I shouted down to the Skipper ‘Submarine, Skipper!’ As soon as he got his eyes open, which was done very quickly, he said ‘Over her!’ I left the wheel and ran aft tocall all hands to man the gun. ‘Submarine’ I sang out. Everyone was at his post very quickly and the gun was trained right round at once. Befor I left the bridge, the Skipper said ‘Keep her E N E!’ By going E N E it was impossible to go past that object without seeing it. As soon as I had warned everyone, I returned to the Skipper. I looked at the compass and I said to him that she was on the port bow. After I had altered her course, I said to the Skipper ‘Poor look-out, Skipper, she will not give us another chance’. We proceeded afterwards to Lundy”
When it got daylight they tried to signal HMT Favorita. The hospital ship had gone clean out of sight and they did not look for her. The Skipper of the Swansea Castle remarked that “We have done our bit for the country” and although they were only just over a mile away they heard no explosion and thought that the hospital ship could not have been sunk.