Penryn, Cornwall: 55 Men Lost at Sea

There are 55 Cornish names on the list of men lost in the sinking of the RMS Royal Edward in the Aegean Sea, Gallipoli in 1915.

Alan Nunn from St Austell was researching his family tree when he stumbled across the list which includes one of his Uncles.

“The anecdotal story is that there were rafts for six to eight men and he went into the sea and saved three or four men then drowned himself.” (Alan Nunn, St Austell)

One source suggests the high number of fatalities was because the soldiers had just finished a deck drill and were back below decks repacking their kit bags when the torpedo struck.

“Stalemate set in on the Western Front quite early in the war and the British started to look for a way to break that stalemate and a way to bring to bear the power of the Royal Navy. The idea emerges that we can attack the Ottoman Empire and Churchill who is first Lord of the Admiralty pushes this idea really hard. The Ottoman Empire entered the war late in support of Germany, fighting Russia in the Caucasus Mountains and an appeal comes through from Russia saying we need help relieving pressure upon us you need to attack Turkey elsewhere. “(Dr Jenny Macleod, University of Hull)

Another listener; amateur historian Bob Richards from Carnon Downs, researched his Great Uncle’s story, and like Alun Nunn, discovered the story of Cornishmen lost on the Royal Edward.

Just before the war William James Opie was living with his wife and young family in Penryn. William was a horse driver and carter carrying freight and goods from the railway station in Penryn to businesses and houses in the area.

“In August 1915, William embarked on a troop ship the Royal Edward, with around 1,500 other men, about 60 of them from his own home area of Cornwall. They made their way through the Mediterranean Sea towards Gallipoli.” (Bob Richards, amateur researcher)

Commonwealth ships were running the gauntlet at huge risk from enemy submarines.

On 13 August 1915 the Royal Edward was torpedoed by a German submarine in the Aegean Sea and sank.

“I found a quote, a man called A.T Frazer was in the Border Regiment and he was on board the Royal Edward. He was ordered to jump into the sea as the ship began to list and spent five hours in the sea clinging to the lifeboat. He wrote afterwards of his experiences and he said ‘the water was warm; I wondered if there were sharks’ - five hours in the water wondering if you’re going to survive.” (Dr Jenny MacLeod)

News of William Opie’s death and the deaths of nearly twenty men from the Falmouth and Penryn area reached Cornwall soon afterwards.

William’s widow Grace lived on in Penryn for many years, struggling like so many war widows to bring up her young family of four children.

Location: St Gluvias Street, Penryn, Cornwall TR10 8BL
Image shows a newspaper article illustrating some of the men who died at sea. Photograph courtesy of Alan Nunn

Release date: 30 Jul 2014

14 minutes

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