03/01/2018 Share this story Share on Facebook icon Share on Twitter icon Share on Pinterest icon Share on Google Plus icon Share on Linked In icon Share via Email icon

Remembering the sinking of HMHS Rewa a century ago

fe3725d7-6bd3-41b3-86a4-4e897d01ef9b

100 years ago (4 January 1918) the sinking of a hospital ship by an infamous German U-boat commander caused outrage across Britain.

Wilhelm Werner broke international law when he fired on HMHS Rewa, killing four seafarers and causing the vessel to sink into the Bristol Channel, 19 miles off Hartland Point.
 
 
The Rewa - which had served in the Gallipoli campaign - was transporting walking wounded from Malta to Wales when it was torpedoed. The ship took two hours to sink, which gave those on board time to get into lifeboats.
 
The survivors arrived in Swansea, where they received support from international maritime charity the British and Foreign Sailors’ Society. Reverend R.G. James, one of the charity’s support workers in Wales at the time, helped organise the support efforts and said: “This occurrence has emphasised tremendously to the people of this town and district the realities of the dangerous and hazardous occupations of our seafaring men. Many onlookers were seen to weep bitterly as the patients were brought through our streets.”
 
Sailor's Society
 
Between 1 January 1917 and June 1918, the British and Foreign Sailors’ Society helped 32,890 survivors of torpedoed vessels. The charity, which is now called Sailors’ Society, still supports seafarers affected by trauma at sea. 
 
Its CEO, Stuart Rivers, said: “This horrific event is one of the many examples of merchant seafarers paying the ultimate sacrifice. A century on, Sailors’ Society is still supporting the world’s seafarers through crises such as piracy, kidnapping and abandonment.”
 
Werner's fate
 
After the war ended, the Allies demanded Werner’s extradition as a war criminal. The German commander had committed a number of atrocities, including deliberately drowning 38 of the SS Belgian Prince crew six months prior to sinking the Rewa.
 
Werner was also accused of murdering the crew of the SS Torrington but fled to Brazil under a false name before he could be tried. He returned to Germany in 1924. Two years later, proceedings against him were dropped, which enabled him to climb the ranks of the Nazi party, where at one point he belonged to Heinrich Himmler’s personal staff. Werner died in May 1945, having never faced justice for his crimes.
 

Back to News

03/01/2018 Share this story Share on Facebook icon Share on Twitter icon Share on Pinterest icon Share on Google Plus icon Share on Linked In icon Share via Email icon

Recent Updates

Campaign for early release of 1926 Irish Census

Family history researchers are urged to sign a petition for the early release of the 1926 Irish Census ...


Earliest reference to tea in the UK discovered at West Yorkshire Archives

One of the earliest references to tea in England has been discovered in a West Yorkshire Archive, in a ...


A House Through Time on BBC2 - the story of the research

Anglia Research case manager Imogen Benneworth explains how she helped trace the history of Liverpool’s 62 ...


FamilySearch to open new family history centre in Utah in 2019

FamilySearch has this week held a ceremony of groundbreaking at its new premises, which is due to open to the ...


Other News

County's libraries under threat

Family historians can have their say on far-reaching plans for changes to a county's library services, which ...


Thousands of medieval manuscripts to explore as Parker Library to become accessible online in 2018

The oldest surviving illustrated Latin Gospel book, known as the Gospels of St. Augustine, can be seen ...


How has the UK changed since 1957? Check your knowledge with these interactive graphs

Discover how the UK has changed with these interactive charts from Office for National Statistics which cover ...


Get ready for a busy year of family history conferences in 2018!

Find out what fantastic family history events 2018 has in store