Captain R. A. Sylvester prepared His Majesty’s Hospital Ship “Llandovery Castle” for route from Nova Scotia to Liverpool. It was displaying the regulation Red Cross identifications and was carrying 258 people including 94 Medical Officers and Nursing Sisters of the Canadian Medical Staff.
27 June 1918. 9.30 p.m.
At a distance of 114 miles south-west of the Fastnet Rock (Ireland) she was torpedoed by the German U-Boat 86. The explosion caused massive damage including the destruction of the Marconi Radio system, so no S.O.S could be sent. Ten minutes after the the torpedeo struck, her stern went under, the boilers blew and she sank. Some of those who survived the initial attack managed to get into lifeboats, others remained in the sea waiting to be rescued.
The U-Boat surfaced and its Captain, Lieutenant Helmut Patzig, ordered the boat holding Captain Sylvester to come alongside as he was going to interogate him on board. Apparently, the answers he gave were satisfactory and he was allowed back on the lifeboat. A second German officer told him to, ‘get away quickly, it will be better for you.’
This act on what was clearly identified as a hospital ship was one of the worst sea atrocities of World War 1, moreso compounded by the U-Boat captain’s attempt to to destroy the lifeboats and their occupants in order to remove all evidence. The U-Boat commenced to run at speed among the lifeboats, running them down and leaving the survivors to drown, before opening fire with the big deck gun in an effort to ensure that there would be no survivors to tell the tale.
Destroyers were sent to the scene but found no trace of any lifeboats, they too were on the sea bed. The weather had remained fine and the boats, if unmolested, would have reached the coast. The obvious presumption is that the Germans fired on the lifeboats killing many occupants and leaving others to drown. Of the 258 who started the journey, the only survivors were the captain and twenty-three others, all in the same lifeboat.
The Llandovery Castle had nineteen lifeboats, seventeen capable of holding fifty-two persons and two others described as cutters, each holding a maximum of 23.
Of those killed, was Archibald Arthur Weller (33) and fourteen who were Nursing Sisters of the Canadian Medical staff.
- Alexina Dussault.
- Anna Irene Stamers.
- Carola Josephine Douglas.
- Christina Campbell.
- Gladys Irene Sare.
- Jean Templeton.
- Jessie Mabel McDiarmid.
- Mae Belle Sampson.
- Margaret Jane Fortesque.
- Margaret Marjorie Fraser.
- Mary Agnes McKenzie.
- Minnie Asenath Follette.
- Minnie Catherine Gallagher.
- Rena McLean.
However, Germany could not hide the damning evidence of the crimes, the wanton act of murder perpetrated by a man whose callousness superseded all sea traditions and common decency. After the war the U-Boat Captain was to be tried as a war criminal but he ‘vanished’ and escaped the clutches of the law. The ‘assassin’ of nurses and helpless men was never brought to task.
Two other officers of U-Boat 86 were tried, convicted and sentenced to four years in prison. Soon after, they too ‘escaped.’