The day was pretty much like any other down at the harbour in Folkestone, troops were disembarking from trains and embarking onto the troop ships. some travelling as individuals or in very small groups were lucky enough to grab a cuppa from the cafe. (1) A normal everyday scene in a busy wartime military port. The sort of nothing really happens here and they are are just ordinary soldiers. In a hundred years time they will be just forgotten sepia photographs in a war everyone will claim to never have forgotten but can no longer remember what happened. So what made this day, the 17th November 1915 different?
Two ships were sunk a mile or so from Folkestone harbour. One, HMHS Anglia is well known. at least 164 people died (2) (See http://www.newhistorian.com/wreck-wwi-hospital-ship-given-war-grave-status/8149/?utm_content=bufferb2009&utm_medium=social&utm_source=twitter.com&utm_campaign=buffer)
The other was the Lusitania. The Lusitania was a British collier of 1834 tonnes on its way to Cadiz carrying general cargo from London.(3) Some of the many barely remember heroes of the First World War. the crew of the Lusitania were in the process of rescuing survivors from the Anglia before hitting another mine laid by the U-boat UC-5. Fortune very often favours the brave, and despite sinking none of the crew were killed, all being themselves rescued.
One of the soldiers who may have seen the two ships sink was Walter Tull. He was crossing to France for the first time with the 17th Battalion Middlesex Regiment(4) Walter Tull allegedly nearly signed for Glasgow Rangers Football Club. This makes him nearly a footballer and almost their first black player. Tull had to settle for playing for Spurs.
Two other well-known people also crossed from Folkestone on the 17th November. One wrote poetry which many people confuse with History. Not the greatest of WW1 poets, that title would most likely belong to his friend Wilfred Owen. Siegfreid Sassoon(5) was also aboard a troop ship heading to Boulogne. Sassoon sailed on the S.S Victoria. Tull was on the S.S. Princes Victoria.
The other was an officer in the 2nd Battalion Grenadier Guards(6) known as Winston Churchill. Probably not his finest hour Churchill was in disgrace after the lunacy of Gallipoli. A disaster of a campaign Britain and her Empire were in the process of extracting their soldiers from.
References, also sources of more information.
- Made from real tea leaves, not the floor sweepings that passes for tea these days.
- When the Whistle Blows (Riddoch and Kemp)