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The Sad Tale of the Doomed Winchester

(The first casualty of World War 1)

On July 23rd 1914 the S.S City of Winchester left Calcutta with a general cargo for London and Dunkirk. The voyage was marked by no noticeable incident until the evening of August 5th when the Master, Mr George R Boyck, received news of the outbreak of war in a dramatic manner. At 8.30pm when the vessel was steaming at full speed in the Gulf of Aden, a strange cruiser, afterwards recognised as the Konigsberg, drew towards her making no signal and firing no gun. The warships guns could be seen in the moonlight trained on the defenceless merchant ship and, when the signal was received to stop, Captain Boyck had no alternative to but to comply.

A boat was immediately sent off from the Konigsberg with an armed crew, and the Winchester's wireless equipment was destroyed. The Winchester was then ordered to proceed in accordance with directions received from Konigsberg until anchor was dropped in the bay of the small port of Makalla, about 200 miles from Aden on the Arabian coast. At this point the Konigsberg was joined by two other ships, the Zeiten and the Ostmark. A crew of 15 were dispatched to the Winchester to remove all her charts and sailing directions. The four ships then departed the bay, making to the North East until anchor was cast in the North East bay of Hallaniya, the largest island of Oman's Kuria Muria group.

On the following morning the Zeiten went alongside the Winchester and proceeded to take about 800 tons of her bunker coal, as well as her stores of food and drink. In the meantime the captain and crew, with the exception of the second officer, third engineer and carpenter, were transferred to the German ship and early the following morning the German ship disappeared into the darkness. The same afternoon Konigsberg came alongside and took the remaining coal, all the fresh water and what was left of the foodstuffs. At 4.30am the next morning, August 12th, the remaining officers and crew were ordered onboard the Konigsberg with their belongings. While the third engineer, under compulsion, was pointing out to the German officer the steps which could be taken to flood the ship, the task of dismantling all that was portable of her equipment was completed. The Konigsberg then stood off, fired three shells into the abandoned vessel and steamed away. Two hours later the Konigsberg met with the German merchant ship "Goldenfels" and transferred the crew of the "Winchester". For some unexplained reason, the "Goldenfels" then returned to the spot where the "City of Winchester" had been left sinking. It was thus the unhappy experience of the former officers and crew of this ship to spend the remainder of the day watching her founder, until only the black top of the funnel, the wireless mast and part of the top of the main mast remained in view. "We were afterwards conveyed in the Goldenfels to Sabang where I safely arrived with all my men", the second officer recorded in his report to the owners. "I have obtained a paper from the master of the Goldenfels certifying that he saw the ship sink."

 

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Last modified: August 28, 1998