Tragic murder at sea during WW1
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.