The GALWAY CASTLE was built in 1911 by Harland & Wolff at Belfast, she was an intermediate mailship and part of the “G” class of ships (Gloucester Castle, Guildford Castle, Garth Castle, Grantully Castle and Galway Castle) and the only one of the five to be built by Harland and Wolff. She was of 7988grt, 452ft 4in long with a beam of 54ft 4in. Her service speed was 13 knots.
In August 1914 she was taken up as a troopship, conveying men for the German South West African campaign but reverted back to her normal trade in 1915. Her first real claim to fame came on 12 October 1917 when she ran aground off Orient Beach, East London, while serving as a substitute mailship. Fortunately she was not seriously damaged and was refloated some 5 days later.
In our record card searches her name often appears as carrying troops to and from England, and would have emerged unscathed until 2th September 1918 when she was two days out from Plymouth, sailing under the name Rhodesia, and was torpedoed by U-82. The torpedo hit just forward of midships and broke the Galway Castle’s back, and it seemed that she might break in two at any minute.
In spite of the ship being badly damaged the decision to lower the boats was not taken lightly by her master: Captain WB Dyer. Several lifeboats were swamped by the heavy seas and many passengers and crew ended up in the heaving seas. The ship had been carrying 400 South African walking wounded, 346 passengers and 204 crew members on this voyage and heavy seas hampered the lowering of boats and 143 (some say 150) people lost their lives.
The Galway Castle did not sink for 3 days, and it is possible that had everybody stayed on board the loss of life may have been smaller, but the threat of a second attack by U82 was also a possibility. The Royal Navy destroyers summoned by radio rescued the survivors and returned them to Plymouth. HMS Spitfire remained with the ship and later took off the skeleton crew. The ship finally sank 3 days later.
In Memory Of
There have always been questions about the passenger list of the Galway Castle, and a number of military personnel were omitted from the official Rolls of Honours because they were traveling as passengers on the ship, or because they slipped through the cracks. The South African War Graves Project has been working towards submitting these names to the Commonwealth War Graves Commission so that they may be added to the Rolls of Honour.
The major memorial to those who lost their lives on the Galway Castle is at Hollybrook Cemetery in Southampton. The military personnel (27 names) are listed on plaques 48, 49 and 50 of the Hollybrook Memorial while the crew members (32 names) are listed at Tower Hill Merchant Navy Memorial (Pier 6 Course 5 Face H Column B).
To the best of my knowledge there is no memorial to the passengers who lost their lives in the tragedy.
© DRW 2015-2018. Created 19/01/2016. Image of Galway Castle aground by Mark Bentley.