Lance Sergeant Samuel Heales lost in SS Galway Castle

January 26, 2010

Hello Mac,

Could you point me in the right direction please. I'm trying to find information on the SS Galway Castle which was torpedoed on 12 September 1918. My Great Great Grandfather (Lance Sergeant Samuel Heales) was one of the men who "went down with the ship". My father was told not to ask about it and the only information forthcoming was that he had given up his place on a lifeboat for a woman (I wonder if this wasn't romanticised). Are there any accounts of the survivors? Information on this ship is hard to find. I have only found the traumatic event mentioned by survivors three times.

I am looking for lists of passengers/crew etc, accounts of survivors/crew or from the ships (logs etc) who came to help rescue passengers etc. Anything that would help to build a better picture. I have been to the Hollybook Memorial in Southampton, UK, where Samuel's name has been engraved in the Wall of Memorial. I have searched the web extensively, but only managed to find little snippets of information. Any assistance would be much appreciated.

Kind regards
Teresia Heales


Hope this helps.


No Surname Rank Service Number Date Of Death Age Regiment/Service Nationality Grave/Memorial Ref. Cemetery/Memorial Name 

1  HEALES , SAMUEL  Lance Sergeant 460 12/09/1918  45 South African Native Labour Corps South African   HOLLYBROOK MEMORIAL, SOUTHAMPTON


From: http://union-castle.net/ship_Galway_Castle_01.html

            Built by:              Harland & Wolff, Belfast.

            Yard No.:           419

            Official No.:       132616

            Launched:        12th April 1911.

            Completed:      October 1911

            Tonnage:          7,988 gross, 4,967 net

            Dimensions:    Length 452.3 ft x Beam 56.3 ft

            Engines:           Quadruple expansion, 722 h.p., 3,750 i.h.p.,  twin screw, 12 kts

            Passengers:    87 1st class, 130 2nd class, 195 3rd class.

            Reefer space:  8,400 cu ft

            Details from Union-Castle, A Fleet History by Peter Newall

            The "Galway Castle" had a short but exciting
life.   In September she carried troops from
Cape Town to South West Africa (Namibia) at
the start of the campaign led by South
Africa's General Botha against the German army
of the then German South West Africa.

            In 1915 she spent some time on the mail run
due to those ships being on war service.   On
August 3rd., 1916 whilst off the Gull
Lightship (Thames estuary) the "Galway" was
attacked by a German aircraft but there was no
serious damage.

            In 1917 on the 12th of October she came
seriously to grief, running aground on Orient
Beach, east London.  (This notorious beach
immediately outside the harbour breakwater)
has been the grave yard for numerous ships.) 
However she was re-floated and was able to
continue her voyage.


            This dramatic photograph of the "Galway
Castle" aground on Kids Beach East London was
taken by Mark Bentley's grandfather.  Mark has
very kindly allowed me to use his photo. 
Should anyone wish to copy it please contact
me first as the copyright belongs to him.

           On September the 12th 1918 she was attacked by
U 82 160 miles south-west of Fastnet Rock, she
sank three days later.

            From Union-Castle, A Fleet History by Peter
Newall :-

            150 lives were lost, many unnecessarily during
the evacuation of the ship, which although
suffering a broken back, remained afloat for
another three days.

            From O.G. Keen :-

            I rarely comment upon statements made either
by 'shipmates' or authors of articles in
books.   One very noticeable feature of every
book published about the Union-Castle Line is
that not a single one has been written by a
professional mariner.   Thus sweeping
statements such as the above by Peter Newall
and lives lost during the abandonment of the
"Galway Castle" remain unchallenged, and
appear to cast a question mark over the
decisions made by an exemplary master.   In
his book Marischal Murray gives a rather more
accurate description of the abandonment but,
significantly makes no mention of the master's

            It does not require an "A" level in
mathematics to work out that, with some one
thousand on board each of the eighteen boats
launched had to take an average of fifty-six
people.   I cannot give the exact dimensions
of the "Galway" lifeboats but I can assure you
that each boat must have been packed tighter
than a can of sardines.   That this situation
prevails to this day I refer you to Captain
Norman Lloyd  and his demonstration of the
loading of a "Transvaal Castle" lifeboat. 
The simple fact is that lifeboat capacity is a
purely arbitrary figure arrived at by
allocating each person so much cubic space,
how you actually get so many into a boat is
completely another matter.   The fact is that,
unless the "Galway Castle" was carrying
additional lifeboats to those shown in all
photographs, her lifeboat capacity fell well
short of what was required.  

            This one simple fact must have been uppermost
in Captain Dyer's mind that day.   The "Galway
Castle" had just passed through severe
weather, even if the wind had dropped to light
airs the swell would still have been a
significant factor to a disabled vessel
wallowing without means of manoeuvre.   It was
daylight, the weather may well deteriorate,
Captain Dyer had not the benefit of today's
weather forecasting and facsimily weather
maps, he could not even communicate with
anyone for advice, it was his decision and his
alone.   (This is as true today as then. 
When through a series of mishaps and blunders
I found myself in mid Atlantic with just 15
tons of fresh water remaining and the ability
to make only about 5 tons a day, I was told
precisely that by my company manager.   If I
put into the Azores to take water I would
jeopardise the charter, by shutting off all
crew consumption and issuing mineral water for
drinking I could just make I calculated
Kingston in Jamaica.   Had for instance we
suffered a further problem with the boiler
that required 20 tons to fill up it would, as
I put it to my superintendent, be a tow job. 
As it was we made Kingston and the company
said what a clever master I was, had I not
then I would have been relieved of my ship at
the next opportunity.)

            So Captain Dyer, he of course could not
actually see the damage to the ship, he only
new that it was so serious that she would, if
conditions deteriorated most probably break
up, indeed she was giving every indication
that she was in fact breaking up then.   It
was poor training and indecision that finally
resulted in the "Titanic" shambles.   Captain
Dyer must also have been very conscious of
Captain Edward Manning master of the "Teuton"
in 1881, and his over confidence in the
strength of his ship with its catastrophic
consequences.   Thus his order to abandon ship
whilst conditions were if not good at least
acceptable was without any question the
correct one.

            Very few authors of marine books actually know
how lifeboats are lowered, even with all the
modern technology there are still fatalities -
and those have been at lifeboat drill in port!
  The lifeboats of the "Galway Castle" were
hung in very similar davits to the company's
cargo ships.   Housed, the boat sat on wooden
chocks.   To lower the boat the davits had be
wound out (manually) to put the lifeboat over
the ship's side,  but first the gripes, wires
securing the boat to the deck and davit would
be released. and the very heavy wooden boat
had now to be lifted off the chock.      This
was done by attaching a 'handy-billy' to the
down-haul part of the boat falls (either a two
or three fold purchase).   Hauling on the
handy-billy, lifting the boat (this had to be
done at each end of the boat simultaneously)
and, taking up the resulting slack on the
falls down-haul and securing round the
lowering stag-horns on deck.   The boat was
then ready to be swung out.   To lower each
boat required three very well trained men, the
person in charge had to stand midway between
each lowering stag-horn, each one manned. 
The operation of winding the davits out was a
heavy one, initially until past the absolute
upright position it required two men to each
handle, turning on a thread the davit.   Past
the upright and the opposite tended to be the
case, the boats weight threatening to run away
with the handle.   The boat was bowsed in by
wires attached to the stern and bow sheets,
these, as the boat lowered swung it in until
the boat was touching the ship's side and
embarkation could begin.   When the boat was
full the boats coxswain took over control. 
He ordered the slipping of the bowsing in
wires and signalled to the lowering officer
that he was ready to lower, now came the very
dangerous part and one that required the
greatest skill.   The lowering officer had to
signal to the two men at the lowering horns to
pay out the rope falls, checking and lowering
to keep the two falls even.   When the boat
came within the swell, remember that whilst
this is being done the ship is rolling, two
things must happen simultaneously.   The
lowering officer calls out to drop the boat,
the lowering men must release the falls as
rapidly as possible, the boats coxswain,
judging his moment calls out to unhook the
falls.   If all went to plan the boat is now
successfully launched but by no means out of
trouble.   It was attached to the ship with a
'painter', a long rope secured round the
forward thwart.   Before releasing this
somehow, in this overcrowded boat the coxswain
has to get the oars out, somebody forward to
fend off with a boat hook, and the completely
untrained oarsmen must somehow get their boat
away from the ship's side.  

            Every photograph of the "Galway Castle" I have
seen shows davits for five life boats and one
emergency boat on each side, If the "Galway
Castle" carried twenty boats then this process
had to be repeated, i.e., once the first boat
was successfully launched the falls and davits
recovered to launch the second boat. 
'Nesting' was a common practice, the old
"Arundel" and "Windsor" Castle's both had
nested boats after their reconstruction.

            All this has to be accomplished with heaving
swells, the cold and sheer fright of all on
board.  Authors of marine books dismiss this
harrowing experience with 'the ship was

            Mr. Knight in his book on U-C at War,
1914-1919 (never knowingly using one word when
six would do) surely got one thing right when
he wrote:- 'Out of the 1,000 souls in the ship
all were ultimately saved but 150 - surely a
small loss of life in the conditions that

            I have the opinion that Captain Dyer must have
been a very great seaman.


            From The Union-Castle and the War, 1914-1919
by E.F. Knight, Chapter VI:-

            "...............   Thus when Captain Dyer took
his ship, the Galway Castle, bound for the
Cape, out of Plymouth on the morning of
September 10th, 1918, going straight into that
notorious danger zone at the entrance to the
Channel, where the enemy submarines used to
lay ever in wait, his responsibility was a
heavy one.   For, in addition to his reliable
crew of 204 and some naval ratings, he carried
346 civilian passengers (mostly third class),
and not far short of 400 invalided South
African troops, some of them blind, or
otherwise partly helpless on account of their
wounds - that is, a total of about 1,000

            (today's reader would be greatly offended by
the paragraph immediately preceding the
beginning of this extract.   The comment about
the passenger numbers would have, in 1919
elicited a collective sigh of relief, 'oh
that's alright, they were only third class! 
It is clear that the precise number of wounded
was unknown.  A reflection upon the times.)

            The Galway Castle sailed in a convoy of
sixteen steamers, escorted by two cruisers and
some destroyers.   From the start the convoy
was faced by heavy weather and high seas, so
its progress was slow.   Captain Dyer had
issued the usual notices and impressed upon
the passengers the importance of remaining
dressed and with their lifebelts on, even
while in bed, until the danger zone had been
traversed.   He ordered frequent station
practices; but, in consequence of the rough
weather, a large proportion of passengers were
seasick and unable to attend these.   He went
down at night to the passengers' quarters to
see his instructions were obeyed.   He found
that many of the passengers, despite his
warnings, were in bed undressed, and with no
lifebelts or life jackets on.   It is often
the way with passengers.   They pay little
heed to orders, deeming them uselessly
vexatious.   For those who know not the sea,
when they come on board these big ships for
the first time and see the many tiers of
decks, the spacious luxurious saloons, the
long cabin-lined alleyways like streets of a
floating city, have not the imagination to
conceive the possibility of so huge and solid
a structure breaking up and going to the
bottom in a few minutes.  (My golly, Knight
certainly could lay it on!   I don't think he
liked passengers that much!)   They have heard
of mishaps, but the magnitude of their new
abode dispels all idea of danger.

            Captain Dyer knew what might happen in the
danger zone, so he went round the ship, and in
his anxiety for their safety he did not stand
on ceremony with refractory passengers.   When
one woman protested, said the Captain, "I am
coming back in five minutes.   If you are not
dressed by then I will pull you out of your
bed."   She was indignant but obeyed.   Three
months later, when Captain Dyer was sailing to
the Cape in command of another ship, a
passenger came up to him.   "You do not
remember me," she said.   "It was me you
threatened to pull out of bed in the Galway
Castle   I thought you were a very rude man
then, presuming your position as captain.   I
know better now.   You saved my life, and
other lives, by what you did.   I now think
you are the loveliest man in the world."
(Really Mr. Knight, you do get carried away!)

            Thirty-six hours after leaving Plymouth, that
is, at 9.30 p.m., Saturday 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.   She was instructed to
proceed at utmost speed, a welcome order, for,
in consequence of the heavy weather the
convoy, kept back by some of the slower
vessels comprising it, had for a time been
making only six or seven knots.   The Galway
Castle having got rid of the convoy, now
raised her speed to eleven knots.

            All went well that night, but at 7.40 on the
following morning (September 12th) the ship
being then about 200 miles west-south-west of
Lands End, without any warning, the shock of a
violent explosion, that shook the great vessel
from end to end, knocking men off their feet
and injuring the captain on the bridge and
others, told all on board that she had been
struck by a torpedo.   The explosion
extinguished all lights below, put the
wireless out of action, and stopped the
engines.   In less than a minute the vessel
had lost her way and was rolling helplessly in
the heavy sea.   The captain rang to the
engine-room, but got no reply.   The chief
engineer, who was taking his morning coffee,
on feeling the shock, hurried out of his cabin
to the engine-room, pushing his way through a
crowd of passengers.   The shrieking of the
women and children was terrible to hear.   He
found the engines stopped.   The steam was
rushing out of the engine-room.   The second
engineer, and the men in the stokehold had
been killed.   The water was pouring into the
engine-room and very soon was up to the
cylinders.   He attempted to shut off the
steam with the emergency gear, but found it
unworkable.   Then he went to the captain on
the bridge and reported.   In the meantime
while captain Dyer had given the order that
all should go to boat stations.   This was
promptly carried out.   Then, while his
officers were looking to the boats, he went to
investigate the damage, and found it was very
serious.   It looked as if the ship might sink
at any moment.   So he gave the order that all
boats should at once be manned and launched
when they had their compliments on board. 
Some boats were first lowered to the rail to
facilitate the taking off of the women and
children.   The ship had been hit low down on
the port side, forward of the boiler room. 
The torpedo had exploded inside her; her back
broken; she sagged amidships, the stem and
stern rising up, while she sank in the middle.
  As she thus doubled up all the decks
amidships buckled and burst up.   In addition
to the hissing of the escaping steam there was
all the time a great tearing noise, caused by
the rending decks.   She seemed to be breaking
asunder, but the water-tight bulkheads kept
her afloat.

            The evacuation of the ship was attended with
great difficulty.   The breaking-up of the
decks amidships rendered communication between
forward and aft parts of the ship dangerous,
and made it impossible for all to reach their
proper boats.   Davits and falls had been
injured in the explosion.   The launching of
the boats in so heavy a sea was perilous work,
but eighteen out of twenty-one boats were got
out; the other three were smashed up.   Boats
while lowering were dashed violently against
the ship's sides and were badly strained. 
One boat broke in half on reaching the water,
and precipitated the women and children into
the sea.   The quantities of floating wreckage
struck and damaged boats that had got clear,
and killed and injured many people who were in
the water.   About forty rafts had also been
put over the side.

            The experiences of the chief engineer will
convey some idea of the tragic happenings of
that stormy morning.   He had been lending a
hand in getting the boats out, and was pitched
into the sea by a sudden giving way of a davit
fall.   He crawled into a boat that was nearly
full of water, and took into it some ladies
and men from a boat in sinking condition. 
His boat held together for nearly an hour, but
it had been knocked about by wreckage, the air
tight tanks had burst, and at last she filled
up with water.   The survivors clung on, but
one by one were washed off or dropped off from
exhaustion.   The water was very cold.   They
had nearly all been injured by wreckage that
was driven against them by the tremendous sea.
  At last he was the only one left.   His
clothes had all been washed off.   Dead bodies
were constantly passing him, and the naked
body of a dead baby for a long while was
drifting up and down against him.   He felt
himself losing consciousness, but he was
observed and picked up by a destroyer at 6
p.m., having been in the water for eight
hours.   The officers and men of the Galway
Castle  behaved splendidly.

            An hour after the explosion all had been got
out of the ship with the exception of the
captain, some of his officers, and about 40
members of the crew and volunteers who had
been working the boats.   Out of the 1,000
souls in the ship all were ultimately saved
but 150 - surely a small loss of life in the
conditions that prevailed.

            The Ebro had wirelessed for assistance,
destroyers had come up, and for many hours the
picking up of survivors out of the rough sea
continued.   There were no boats or rafts left
on the ship, so at 10 a.m. the destroyer
Spitfire came alongside.   Her commander told
Captain Dyer that he and those with him must
leave the ship, as she would go down within a
few minutes.   The Spitfire, cleverly handled,
came up to the Galway Castle stern first, and
safely took on board all those remaining on
her.   The Galway Castle still held together.
 Tugs came later from Plymouth to attempt to
tow the wreck in, and they might have
succeeded in salving her had a port been
nearer, for it was not until three days after
the disaster that she sank.   But she might
have broken in two at any moment, and with so
many women, children, military invalids on
board it had been the right thing to evacuate
the ship as soon as possible.

            Captain Dyer himself helped in lowering of the
boats, and his personality did much to
re-assure the passengers and prevent panic. 
One young wounded soldier, who was blind, was
reluctant to get into a boat.   "Look after
the others," he said; "I am blind and no good
now."   The captain threatened to throw him
over the side if he did not go down at once to
the boat.   On a subsequent voyage Captain
Dyer saw the lad standing, quite cheery now,
by the side of a woman who proved to be his
mother.   The captain clapped him on his
shoulder, and greeted him.   "Why it is
Captain Dyer!" exclaimed the lad, joyfully
recognising the voice.   The mother's
expressions of gratitude remain a pleasant
memory to the old sailor - old in sea wisdom
but not in years; he is still in command of a
Union-Castle liner, the one by the way, whose
crew a short time ago refused to carry Hertzog
and his delegates from the Cape to England.

            E.F. Knight, 'The Union-Castle and the War



        a.. Ships hit during WWI
      Galway Castle
            Name Galway Castle
            Type Passenger steamer
            GRT 7,988 tons
            Country   British
            Built 1911
            Builder Harland & Wolff, Ltd., Belfast
            Operator The Union-Castle Mail SS. Co., Ltd.,


      U-boat attacks on Passenger steamer Galway Castle

           Date U-boat Loss type Position Location Route
Cargo Casualties
           12 Sep 1918 U 82 (Heinrich Middendorf) Sunk 160
miles SW1/2S of Fastnet
           48.50N, 10.40W
           London & Plymouth - Port Natal
           passengers & general cargo

               In Memory of
                  Lance Sergeant SAMUEL HEALES

                  460, South African Native Labour Corps
                  who died age 45
                  on 12 September 1918
                  Husband of Edith Heales.
                  Remembered with honour

                  Commemorated in perpetuity by
                  the Commonwealth War Graves Commission  
Mackenzie Gregory

Hello Mac,

Wow, that was quick! Thanks a million. It made for very interesting reading, albeit sad. I'm very grateful and will pass it on to my Dad.

Kind regards

November 19, 2011

Hi Mac
Thought you might be interested in the following item from my grandfather collection.

H.M.S. "ECLIPSE" 1st December 1918 No. 6. Memorandum
I am directed by The Lords Commissioners of the Admiralty to convey to the Commanding Officers of H.M. Ships "Spitfire" "Minion" "Unity" Garland" and Oriana" an expression of their appreciation of the service
rendered on the occasion of the sinking of S.S. "GALWAY CASTLE, " and to acquaint you that they consider that the work of the destroyers in rescuing survivors and assisting in the salvage operations, were both excellent
and carried out in an efficient and seamanlike manner throughout, as was shown by the number of lives that were saved, and the fact that the vessel was towed 140 miles in spite of the weather conditions and the state of the sea.

2. The above is to be read on the quarter deck to the Officers and men of H M. Ships concerned.

4th Destroyer Flotilla


My thanks for your mail.

By a Cc to my webmaster Terry Kearns in Atlanta Georgia, I am asking him to post your note at our URL:  "Lance Sergeant Samuel Heales lost in SS Galway Castle"


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