ON THE WATERFRONT: Remembering those lost

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In this Remembrance Week, we look back 100 years in memory of the merchant seamen who made the supreme sacrifice during World War One, particularly those on ships docked in the Port of Sunderland on Saturday, November 11, 1916.

Although berthed in relative safety, these vessels would eventually put to sea to run the gauntlet of the German U-boat menace, with crews constantly facing the spectre of death.

According to official figures, 2,479 British merchant ships, aggregating 7,759,090 gross tons were lost to enemy action throughout the First World War, with the lives of 14,287 seamen being lost.

Many of the casualties were Wearside sons; the ships Sunderland-built or owned or both - often on voyages to or from the Wear.

The following snapshot taken from the Sunderland Daily Echo and Shipping Gazette lists those vessels in port on November 11:

River: Lambton and Hetton Drops - Bors, Vernon, Alexander Shukoff; Wearmouth Drops - Hans Jost; Austin’s Quay - John Miles, Lesto; Austin’s Pontoon - Marlwood; Austin’s Dry Dock - Petrograd; Pallion Buoys - Ohio; Southwick Buoys - Newdale, Sumla; Priestman’s Quay - Modesta; Clark’s Quay - Lumina; Laing’s Quay - Tuscarora; Bridge Dock - Cholmley; Robert Thomson’s Quay - Wharfdale; Cornhill Quay - Clan Matheson; Dickinson’s Quay - Rinda; The Rack - Marlo, Mengo; North Quay - Anglo-Chilean; White’s Tier - Hedworth; Manor Quay - Pentyrch; Long Tier - Collierlie.

North Dock: Nevisbrook. South Docks: Barnton, Birchwood, Carlsholm, Diadem, Refugio, Rosborg, Saint Sunniva, Tarame, Val Salice, Wega. RWC No 1 Dry Dock: Eidsiva; RWC No 2 Dry Dock: Marne.

At least 17 of these vessels - and many of those aboard - would not survive the war, which would end with the signing of the Armistice exactly two years later.

Thirteen fell victim to German U-boat attacks, mainly being torpedoed without warning, while the others were wrecked or lost in collision. Five were new ships built to help replace ever-increasing losses.

Casualties increased significantly in 1917 after Germany introduced unrestricted submarine warfare by attacking without warning allied and neutral shipping trading with Britain. Previously, crews had sometimes been shown mercy by being allowed to abandon ship before being sunk by U-boats.

Each loss had its own story to tell - often accompanied by tragic circumstances.

In 1917, among those ships in port a century ago, 14 seamen were lost when the British steamer Barnton was torpedoed by UC-21 in the Bay of Biscay while shipping iron ore from Bilbao to the Tyne.

Another 10 men died after the SP Austin and Son-built collier John Miles, owned by Stephenson Clarke, was mined 11 miles south-east of Hartlepool during a voyage from the Tyne to Shoreham.

Lest we forget.