Tragic mur­der at sea dur­ing WW1

The Oban Times - - Community News -

THE Psalmist who wrote, ‘They that go down to the sea in ships, that do busi­ness in great wa­ters’ could never have en­vis­aged how many sailors would be lost around our coast­lines let alone through­out the world.

The mother and wife of one young naval of­fi­cer from Sun­der­land were more for­tu­nate than most at a time of war in at least they were able to be present at his burial.

The poignant in­scrip­tion on his head­stone in the Kil­bran­don old church yard near Balvicar on the Is­land of Seil, reads:

Neil McDougall Mor­ton of Sun­der­land, aged 27 years. Chief Of­fi­cer SS Bel­gian Prince

Tor­pe­doed and cru­elly mur­dered by the Huns on 31st July 1917. (Body Washed ashore at Cuan Ferry on 23 Septem­ber) ‘He gave his life that we might not starve’. Erected by his mother. If you think there is some­thing un­for­giv­ing about the in­scrip­tion read on. The ‘Bel­gian Prince’ was at­tacked by a Ger­man U Boat, U-55, 175 miles NW of Tory Is­land off the north west coast of Ire­land. She was en route from Liver­pool to New­port News, Vir­ginia, with a crew of 42 and a cargo of blue clay. The tor­pedo did not im­me­di­ately sink her al­low­ing all aboard to get into the lifeboats and row across to the sub­ma­rine which, by this time, was on the sur­face. Her cap­tain was taken be­low while his crew were lined up on the sub­ma­rine’s hull.

Their life-jack­ets and outer- cloth­ing were re­moved by the Ger­mans who pro­ceeded to de­stroy the lifeboats.

Af­ter sink­ing the stricken ship with its gun, the sub­ma­rine sub­merged, de­lib­er­ately wash­ing the ‘Bel­gian Prince’s’ crew into the sea. With no life­jack­ets, they had lit­tle chance of sur­viv­ing and all but three were drowned.

Those who man­aged to stay afloat were picked up by a Bri­tish pa­trol eleven hours later. It was noth­ing less than an act of cold-blooded mur­der and com­pletely against the 1907 Hague Con­ven­tion.

It al­most seems in­cred­i­ble that Neil’s body trav­elled from the west coast of Ire­land to the Firth of Lorn in such a short time. The cur­rents must be fairly con­stant as the body of 35 year old John Macpher­son, Ap­pin, who was drowned off Tory Is­land on 22 Au­gust 1874, was washed ashore at Fion­nphort, Mull, 200 miles away only 19 days later. John Macpher­son had been mate on the SS ‘Fairholm’, a 196 ton Glas­gow steamer car­ry­ing a cargo of coal.

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