1918-2008: Ninety Years of Remembrance

Soldier Record

James Suggit

Contributed by: J R Suggit, on 2008-11-07

Jim Suggit
First Name James
Surname Suggit
Year of Birth 1886
Year of Death 1917
Regiment Royal Naval Reserve
Place of Wartime Residence Hull, East Riding of Yorkshire

James's Story

A brave man who regarded being torpedoed as an inconvenient occupational hazard.

Grandfather was lost on 16 September 1917 when MV ARABIS was sunk without warning by Kurt Heeseler’s U-54. ARABIS went down in 4 minutes 210miles W by S from Ushant. She was en route to Garston from Sfax (Tunisia) carrying phosphate. This was the 3rd of Grandfather's ships to be sunk. ARABIS was an uncommon diesel engined vessel of the time, built by Swans for the Flower Motor Ship Co to trade between London-Basra. In 1916, she had been "commandeered by the Government," becoming an armed merchantman. Twenty crew survived, but Grandfather died with 20 others. Until recently, I knew little of his war service. He had been at sea on the Wilson Line's SS ESKIMO in 1914. Having been a TA bombardier, he had joined the RNR as an engineer lieutenant. He had been wounded once and Grandma said he had seen some terrible things. She cited a particular instance of a dead German submariner floating in the water with an eye shot out. Grandfather never expanded on the circumstances, but gave Grandma a small piece of coal - to act as a cue for "I'll tell you a story when the war is over." She never heard it. Enquiries have given a probable explanation. On 23 September 1915, he had been on Wilson’s SS URBINO when she was intercepted by Claus Hansen’s U-41 67 miles SW by W from Bishop's Rock, returning to Hull from New York. URBINO's crew took to the boats, jeered by the U-boat crew who shelled the ship. Within minutes, U-41 was itself sent to the bottom - by the RN Q-ship WYANDRA, formerly BARALONG. The story is partly related in Admiralty Record 137/385, the cover folio of which bears a then Secret note from the Senior RN Officer Falmouth to the effect that the URBINO's Master said that “his men would keep their mouths shut,” but that he did not think they would. He did not elaborate why. They did! The Record unfolds of how WYANDRA sank U-41 with only 2 survivors - one being the gunnery officer (Iwan Crompton) who had had his eye shot out. The Germans were brought aboard WYANDRA receiving what can best be described as cold shoulder treatment. Crompton was later repatriated, but the events of the day subsequently launched German protests as the "Second Baralong Incident", the first being after the sinking of U-27 a month earlier by this accomplished special service vessel. Both losses prompted German production of propaganda outrage medals. The New York Times of 14 January 1917 ran a feature on the German accusations. I now presume that the piece of coal Grandma kept in her china cabinet came from BARALONG's scuppers - this may have nuances. Grandfather's second sinking was on an as yet unidentified ship on the way in to Tilbury. He wore his "torpedo" badges proudly on his uniform. I have one of his spare sets. They meant more to him than any medal. I do not know whether he died when ARABIS went down, or when its jolly boat was lost. Some details are in the Churchill Archives Centre, but I have no survivor transcripts - they were picked up by another vessel that took 6 weeks to reach port and for debriefs to follow. Grandfather had been off watch when the ARABIS was struck and was reportedly seen speeding down to the engine room in response to a shout of the still-running engines splitting the ship in two. Lost with him and other English seamen were Welsh, Scots, Irish, Indian, Belgian, Danish, Romanian, Russian and German (born Stettin) crewmates. Fred Schultz may have been a “Hun,” but not to the crew of ARABIS. Grandfather and 16 others are commemorated on the Tower Hill Memorial. RNR and RNVR colleagues are commemorated on the RN Chatham Memorial. I don't know why Grandfather is not listed as a RNR casualty - no trace in Navy Lists after 1915. Curiously, the family who lived opposite Grandfather in Lonsdale Street, Hull were also called Crompton. They were very supportive of my widowed Grandmother, my father and his sister.

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