Death of Sunderland sailor finally marked as war casualty - 98 years on...

Cleveland Road Methodist Church in May 1951.
Cleveland Road Methodist Church in May 1951.
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The drowning of a Sunderland sailor has finally been marked as an official First World War death - almost 100 years since his ship was sunk by an enemy U-boat.

Albert Edward Millican survived two shipwrecks in 1917, before his third vessel - the St Olaf - went missing, presumed destroyed, in December of that year.

Is this Albert?

Is this Albert?

“Due to the uncertainty of his death, it is only briefly mentioned in Sunderland memorials,” said distant relative by marriage Bill Richardson.

“However, after I made an approach to the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, Albert’s death has finally been added to those who died as a result of enemy action.”

Albert, son of greengrocer Robert and wife Mary Ann, was born on July 22, 1874, in Sunderland - the third of three sons, the other two being Robert and Thomas.

By the time of the 1881 census, two further sons had been born - Alfred and Frederick - and the family were living at 37 Rutland Street.

Aerial view of George Clark's.

Aerial view of George Clark's.

“Robert senior died in 1889, leaving Mary Ann as head of the household. She worked as a grocer, helped out by the boys as they started to get jobs,” said Bill.

Indeed, by 1891 oldest son Robert was a marine engine fitter, while Thomas was a grocer’s assistant and Albert, now 16, was an apprentice engine fitter.

By 1901, however, the family had moved to 22 Hawthorn Street South. Mary Ann was still the head of the household, but the two oldest boys had moved on.

“Albert built his career on two strands, engineering and shipping. He began work in 1889 with Messrs John Lyon & Co as an apprentice fitter,” said Bill.

“He was there until February 1896, when he started work with Messrs Clark & Co as a fitter journeyman, but only until the summer of 1897.

“In December 1897 he joined the crew of the Agenoria as a third engineer and on July 13, 1899, he gained his certificate for Second Class Engineer.”

Albert sailed on the Simonside shortly after this, before moving to the Birchfield in 1900. He obtained his First Class Engineer certificate in February 1901.

Voyages on Holmlea (1901, 2nd engineer), Wearside (1902, 2nd and 1st engineer) and Salfordia (1908, 2nd and 1st engineer) followed over the next few years.

“All the ships seemed to be sailing from the North East to ports on mainland Europe, and the outgoing cargo would have been mainly coal,” said Bill.

“Albert spent his shore leave at home, until his mother’s death in 1906. The following year, on October 9, he married Helena Gardiner in a ceremony at Crook.

“Helena was a teacher, and how they came to meet is a mystery. But they set up home at 61 Colchester Terrace, which remained their home until Albert’s death.

“They seem to have been active in the community and records show Albert was a trustee of Cleveland Road Methodist Church. There were no children.”

As the storm clouds of war started gathering, so Albert joined SS Paignton as chief engineer in 1912. Sadly, on March 14, 1917, it was sunk by U-boat gunfire.

Albert went back to sea three months later, on June 7, 1917, as chief engineer on Ribera - but, on June 10, the ship was sunk by an enemy submarine.

All of Albert’s certificates went down with the ship, and it wasn’t until new ones had been issued that he set off to sea again - this time with the St Olaf.

“It appears Olaf was engaged in European trade. Records records show it sailed from Cardiff on December 15, 1917, with a cargo of coal for Honfleur,” said Bill.

“That was the last definitive record of either the ship, or most of the crew, and the records simply say ‘missing, presumed sunk’.

“Just one body washed ashore, on the Scilly Isles - ship’s master W.S. Dobbing. He also lived in Sunderland and is in a CWGC grave in St Mary’s Churchyard.”

Albert left £941 to Helena following his death - around £100,000 today. Tragically, she took her own life just weeks after retiring from teaching in 1935.

“I would very much like to know more about Albert’s life, as well as find out if the photo I believe to be him actually is,” said Bill.

lEmail details about Albert to or check out Albert’s North East War Memorial Project page at