Cornelius Johannes Smith perished on board the Galway Castle when it was torpedoed in 1918?

February 22, 2010

I am researching some family history. I have a report that a Cornelius Johannes Smith perished on board the
Galway Castle when it was torpedoed in 1918. I have since established that he in fact was killed in France
(Somme) 1/07/1916. As the report of the drowning and the sinking of the Galway Castle I am speculating that in fact his father Jan Cornelius may in fact be the Smith that died with the sinking. I am attempting to obtain a listing of those that lost their lives to seek out any Smiths that may have been on board. Can you assist.


John Stephan
Gordons Bay Cape
South Africa.


A report on the sinking of Galway Castle September 12. 1918.

Galway Castle

[For further details and a personal account of the
disaster concerning the Galway Castle see under the
section headed Margaret Catherine Forrester Murray.  The
following are extracts from various reports on the attack
against and sinking of the 'Galway Castle]

From  newspaper and other  reports: (September, 1918)

The 'Galway Castle sailed on 10thSeptember 1918 from
Devonport.  Some of the passengers came by train arriving
at about 4 p.m. Monday and went directly on board.  The
convoy was made up of 16 steamers, escorted by 2 cruisers
and some destroyers.  In ordinary times it was an
Intermediate vessel, acting as a mail steamer but for the
previous few years had been employed in transporting
service men and equipment from Cape Town and South West
African ports during the campaign in South West Africa.
It had been built in Belfast at 8,000 tons, with an
average speed of thirteen and a half knots, being 452 feet
long and 55 feet broad, with twin engines and was launched
on 2nd April 1911.

Its normal intermediate route was to leave London on a
Friday, Southampton the next Saturday and arrive in Cape
Town on Saturday, three weeks later; then up the coast via
East London, Port Elizabeth and to Durban.

The 'Galway Castle left U.K. with 744 passengers aboard
(including 399 invalided South African military men) and
207 crew with a convoy of 27 boats; 16 steamers and being
escorted by 2 cruisers and some destroyers.  There was
heavy weather and high seas so progress was slow.  ?Thirty
six hours after leaving Plymouth, at 9.30 on September
11th the order was given for the convoy to disperse, the
ships bound for the Mediterranean  going in a southerly
direction, while the 'Galway Castle' followed a course
more to the westward, as ordered by the ship that was to
escort her, the armed liner 'Ebro'.?    No longer being
kept back by slower vessels, they raised their speed to 11

An account from one of the survivors:  October 1918.

A discharged 'Springbok' soldier in the 1st S. A. I., Pte.
A. H. Middleton, wrote to his parents:

'We all left England in high hopes of being home in dear
old Africa next month but our voyage was all too quickly
brought to an end.  We left Plymouth on Tuesday and were
only 330 miles out when the catastrophe occurred. [The sea
was running very high] It was just 7 a.m., and we had
started breakfast, when we were almost thrown prostrate on
our backs by a terrific explosion followed by a thundering
crash. [On the bridge, the Captain and others were
injured, all lights were extinguished, the wireless out of
action and the engines stopped.]  We grabbed our life
belts and hurried up on deck, knowing that the worst had
happened. [The torpedo hit the port side but exited,
leaving a hole on the star board side]  The passengers
were for the most part only half dressed, [although
Captain Dyer had instructed the passengers to remain
dressed and wear their life jackets at all times] and the
women and children were crying? they were bundled
wholesale into the boats and lowered. ?... everything was
mismanaged. [The evacuation of the ship proved very
difficult as the breaking up of the decks amidship
rendered communications between forward and after parts of
the ship dangerous and it was also impossible for all to
reach their proper lifeboats]  Only a few boats were
safely put off to sea, the others were either capsized or
battered against the side of the ship?... [One or more
life boats dropped into the sea upside down?. 18 of 21
were launched but few successfully.  Many were killed or
injured by floating wreckage and debris]. I feared the
ship would break in halves and sink.  In that case we
should all be taken down by the tremendous suction.  So I
darted off to the bow of the ship and heaved over a number
of rafts. [In all, about 40 rafts were launched]   Then we
jumped overboard and swam for the rafts.  ? I managed to
haul aboard ?... a mother with a three-year-old baby in
her arms.  Later on I also picked up three men, which made
a crew of seven.  The baby died an hour later of cold and
exposure. [The wind was extremely cold]  Poor mother she
lost all three children she had on board??we kept afloat
for over nine hours and were at last picked up by one of
the three destroyers [that responded to the S.O.S.
requesting assistance and sent by wireless by the armed
liner 'Ebro' which departed fearing to be hit as well.]
Many were in need of extra clothing which the sailors on
the destroyer did their best to provide.  We lost
everything??.  The situation is simply heartrending.?
[In all two submarine destroyers, an American destroyer
and then a cruiser, came to the rescue, bringing survivors
back to England].

From an interview with 'Weekly News' Saturday, September
21st. 1918 with Winifred Murray:
'Regimental Sergeant Major John Murray?? Who is at present
a patient in Stobhill Hospital, Glascow ?. and Mrs.
[Winifred] Murray, who has relatives in Highberg Road,
Hyndland was returning there [to South Africa] with her
three children, Margaret (9 years), Phyllis (6 years), and
Mabel (18 months old).

Mrs. Murray's two youngest children perished in the
disaster, and it was only after she herself had been
landed at an English port that she had the joy of
discovering that Margaret, her remaining child had been
providentially saved.'
'I rushed on deck and put my children into the lifeboat to
which they had been allotted.  I found that this boat had
been damaged and we had to go to another boat on the same
side of the liner, but this one could not be lowered, and
we then had to cross to the starboard side of the ship and
actually got into the last boat that left that side of the

My children, and especially the infant, suffered in the
crush of trying to get away from the doomed liner, and
just as the boat was lowered a big wave washed us against
the side of the ship.  No sooner had the boat rebounded
than another wave carried us against the propeller, which
was even then slowly revolving.

Continuing with great emotion, Mrs Murray stated that when
she looked up she saw her eldest girl's feet disappearing
under the waves and not far away her other girl, Phyllis,
also sank out of view.  Mrs Murray frantically clutched
hold of her infant daughter and with her other hand tried
to get hold of Phyllis, but just after that a wave washed
the baby out of her arms??  The great blades of the
propeller as they flashed in the air with water dripping
from them looked like so many murderous knives ready to
cut us in pieces.  My poor little child Mabel had her head
cut and we were all thrown into the water'. [She clung to
Phyllis and swam a considerable distance towards a raft]
on which two men were perched.  Mrs. Murray hope that her
girl would recover, but the effects of the exposure proved
too much.

When a destroyer hove in sight the survivors on the raft
were in a state of tense anxiety lost in such a rough sea
they might not be observed.  The destroyer after cruising
about in search of survivors turned away as if to leave
the scene and it was only by frantically waving a
handkerchief that the attention of those on the warship
was attracted.

To their great relief the vessel turned about and picked
them up - wet, miserable and exhausted, but relieved at
being saved.
[Those on this lifeboat were picked up by the 'Spitfire'
and taken back to Liverpool.  The Captain and those
members of the crew who remained on board the 'Galway
Castle' had been safely rescued by this same vessel, which
had approached the sinking ship stern first in order to be
able to transfer everyone. The 'Galway Castle' still held
together for some time and, later, tugs came to tow the
wreck in to shore, but the distance was too great and
three days later she sank]

Messages of Condolence and decrying this terrible tragedy
were sent from:

The Prime Minister of South Africa, General Louis Botha;
the Senior Naval Officer at Simonstown; Rear Admiral
Marcus Rowley Hill, Lord and Lady Buxton and the
Johannesburg Town Council.

As the mayor of Cape Town said, ?The torpedoing of the
'Galway Castle' had brought home to South Africa as, he
thought, no other event during the war had done???. And
the fact that we were fighting for Christian civilisation
against absolute barbarism.?

A Mr Brydon next moved ?That the citizens of Cape Town
desire to place on record the sense of thanksgiving for
those that have been saved, and their gratitude to the
British Navy for its heroic rescue work, and their
admiration and appreciation of the services rendered by
the Mercantile Marine?

Missing Passengers and Crew: (carrying 744 passengers and
207 crew)

     Saved Missing Total
      First Class 35
      Second Class 101
      Third Class 98
      Invalided Troops (details lacking)   399
      Crew 173
      Total   952

*        *        *

Contribution by Lucy Tarr:


After Dad died in 1964 Mother related a story to me, which
she swore I was never to tell to anyone in the family,
especially on the Murray side. During the 1930's after
Granny & Grandpa May moved to Cape Town, they were staying
down at Clovelly.  Granny had gone for a walk and while
sitting looking at the sea, a gentleman engaged her in
conversation. As they both walked along the path about the
same time every day, they got to know each other quite

It transpired that Granny told him the story of Winnie and
the three girls being torpedoed in the Galway Castle,
which sank in the English Channel.  This man told her that
he had a friend who had adopted a baby, which had been
picked up after the sinking of the Galway Castle. There
were only two babies of that age on board and Winnie
Murray knew that the other baby had died and thought her
own baby had also perished. This same man told Granny May
that the baby adopted by his friends had been taken to a
port north of Plymouth and the authorities had spent four
months trying to trace the parents but without success.
The man told Granny that she must never try to contact the
child as it would be very upsetting for the family.  After
looking at a photo of Winnie Murray he said the girl
looked just like her and he could see a resemblance to
Granny May as well. Apparently she was adopted by a
General Rhys (spelling?) who lived in the Stellenbosch
area and farmed roses.  The man told Granny that the
General and his wife had never had children and were very
well off and doted on this child. Granny did go to
Stellenbosch once, I believe, but decided not to try and
make any contact.


John, go to this URL :
http://www.genealogy.amay.co.uk/main.php?p=NF1-WinKMGal to continue this story.

Best wishes,



Here is a note including Galway Castle at Hollybrook cemetery but amongst the Smiths listed none for Jan.

The Hollybrook Memorial commemorates by name almost 1,900
servicemen and women of the Commonwealth land and air
forces* whose graves are not known, many of whom were lost
in transports or other vessels torpedoed or mined in home
waters. The memorial also bears the names of those who
were lost or buried at sea, or who died at home but whose
bodies could not be recovered for burial. Almost one third
of the names on the memorial are those of officers and men
of the South African Native Labour Corps, who died when
the troop transport Mendi sank in the Channel following a
collision on 21 February 1917. Other vessels sunk with
significant loss of life were: HS Anglia, a hospital ship
sunk by mine off Dover on 17 November 1915. SS Citta Di
Palermo, an Italian transport carrying Commonwealth
troops, sunk by mine off Brindisi on 8 January 1916. In
rescuing survivors, two Royal Naval Otranto drifters were
themselves mined and blown up. HMTs Donegal and Warilda,
ambulance transports torpedoed and sunk between Le Havre
and Southampton on 17 April 1917 and 3 August 1918. HS
Glenart Castle, a hospital ship torpedoed and sunk off
Lundy on 26 February 1918. SS Galway Castle, torpedoed and
sunk in the Atlantic on 12 September 1918. RMS Leinster,
the Irish mail boat, torpedoed and sunk in the Irish Sea
on 10 October 1918. Among those commemorated on the
Hollybrook Memorial is Field Marshall Lord Kitchener,
Secretary of State for War, who died when the battle
cruiser HMS Hampshire was mined and sunk off Scapa Flow on
5 June 1916. The memorial stands in Southampton
(Hollybrook) Cemetery, behind the plot of First World War
graves near the main entrance. The cemetery also contains
burials of the Second World War and war graves of other
nationalities. * Officers and men of the Commonwealth's
navies who have no grave but the sea are commemorated on
memorials elsewhere.

No. of Identified Casualties: 1872


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