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

The royal train of Tsar Nicholas I

The royal train of Tsar Nicholas I gives us a unique insight into how the Romanovs travelled, taking their ...


Make merry in the month of May

This May Day, village greens up and down the country will be given over to fairs and festivities. Caroline ...


Village WW1 project remembers a lost generation

Discover a new village project to remember and honour 61 of its menfolk who died in the First World War, to ...


Tracing circus ancestors: Q&A with genealogist & book author Steve Ward

As we mark 250 years of the modern circus, learn about the life of the British man credited with 'inventing' ...


Other News

New project will see contemporary artworks installed among the ancient ruins of Herculaneum and Pompeii

Over the next year, two Roman houses - the House of the Beautiful Courtyard at Herculaneum and the House of ...


In the Footsteps of Malins

Ross Barnwell tells us about his upcoming short film entitled 'Beaumont-Hamel' out this July ...


Regent's Park to host pop-up World War I sorting office

Visitors are invited to make a free trip to an ‘interactive’ pop-up WW1 mail sorting office in London's ...


Volunteer opportunities at the Society of Genealogists

The Society of Genealogists has released details of a number of volunteer roles, based either at the ...