A permanent tribute to the service of Courier Country’s seamen and women during the Great War was unveiled by HRH the Princess Royal during a poignant ceremony in Dundee yesterday.
The Dundee WW1 Seamens Memorial and Rolls of Honour were placed in St Mary’s, Dundee’s Parish Church, while a second Roll is now on permanent public display in the City Chambers.
The ceremony opened with the naval hymn For Those in Peril on the Sea, followed by an address by Lord Provost Ian Borthwick who paid tribute to the men and women whose lives were lost, some of whom “have no memorial except the sea… and who served and died that we may live.
Then, to a hushed congregation of more than 100, which included many relatives of those who gave their lives in the Great War, The Princess Royal pulled back the blue curtains to reveal the memorial which comprises a brass on cherrywood plaque. It will be mounted on the south wall of St Mary’s Church and can be viewed whenever the church is open.
The two Rolls of Honour – listed on a calendar basis, with an alphabetical index at the rear – detail the names and addresses of more than 600 men and women who died and will include those who were born, educated, trained, lived, worked and died in Dundee, many from Newport, Tayport, Carnoustie and Perth as well as the immediate surrounding area. These will be on display in the City Chambers and can be accessed on request there.
The Roll will shortly also be online at www.leisureandculturedundee.com. Eventually the entries, together with any additional information, will be added to the City’s Roll of Honour at www.greatwardundee.com
Before the Prayer of Dedication, the Last Post sounded from the gallery, ringing down through 100 years of history and emotively merging the past with the present.
The plaque and Rolls of Honour was the brainchild of Hugh MacRae, a contributor to the online Scottish war memorials commemoration project. Hugh originally became interested in researching war memorials, principally in Perth and Kinross, when he lived in Coupar Angus.
“After moving to Dundee and reading in the 1919 People’s Journal about a church service in St Mary’s church which commemorated the service of more than 2000 Royal Naval Volunteer Reservists, of whom some 200 were killed, I wondered if there was a permanent memorial to the First World War seamen of all sea services,” Hugh explains.
“I discovered there wasn’t, so I approached the city council with the idea in 2014, and the rest is history – or rather, a lot of work, he chuckles.
His co-researcher is Iain Stewart, a retired lieutenant commander in the Navy and a long standing friend, who had been working away on Royal Navy recruits for some time.
“It made sense to work together although Iain provides the expertise,” says Hugh modestly.
“During research into Dundee’s maritime losses it became clear that the names listed in the city’s Roll of Honour did not include most of the seafarers who died,” Iain explains. “The internet made it possible to access many different official records and to cross check entries. Local records and memorials were also viewed to find new names.
“Some names on the Roll of Honour could not be found but remain in the new list,” he continues. “We are sure that more names will be found so space has been left to include them as well.”
1917 was Dundee’s worst year for maritime deaths which came not only from the violence of the enemy or the raging of the deep but from infections and diseases. Many seamen died in Dundee hospitals throughout the war including one from bubonic plague.
“Countless nationalities served in the Mercantile Marine and city cemeteries contain the graves of foreign seafarers who died here from illness or accidents,” says Iain. “It is right that we commemorate these men because Courier Country mariners are buried around the world. It is hoped that locals will respect and remember our people.”
Manpower shortages meant that older men had to remain at sea. The three oldest Dundee seamen lost were aged 69 and almost 60 were over 50.
Fishing vessels faced danger every time they put to sea and, in February, the trawler Primrose struck a mine sinking with all nine of her crew from Dundee or Broughty Ferry. Another 11 Dundee men were lost this year serving in trawlers and drifters.
One of the most poignant stories concerns a brother and sister lost at sea in separate incidents. Third Officer John Mann was lost when the SS Queen Eugene was torpedoed off Tunisia in late March and his sister, Staff Nurse Agnes Mann, drowned when the Hospital Ship Salta struck a mine two weeks later off Le Havre. Their parents lived in Clepington Road, Dundee. Inchture man, Medical Corps Private James Runciman, also died in that sinking.
Boarding vessel HMS Dundee was torpedoed in the English Channel in September by a U-Boat. Five Dundee men lost their lives including Engineer Lieutenant Thomas Brodie, raised in Dundee Orphanage.
In December, an ammunition ship exploded in Halifax, Nova Scotia and over 2000 people died. Two Dundee men serving in the Royal Canadian navy were among the dead. Leading Seaman Charles MacMillan was killed during the blast and Signaller David Sadler died from his wounds three days later.
Iain and Stewart believe the memorial plaque and Rolls of Honour represent the city’s formal and permanent tribute to the men and women in the sea-based services who served during the First World War and to those who died in the conflict.
“It’s also an acknowledgment for families of the sacrifice that they all made during the conflict,” says Hugh. “It is very pleasing that, after almost 100 years, the service of the seamen and women of Dundee in the Great War and the sacrifice of those who died is permanently recorded, both for their families and for future generations.”
Iain concludes: “It is important to commemorate these men, women and children lost at sea or in the Naval Services. Some were volunteers and others were given little choice. They all made the ultimate sacrifice for freedom and many are not recognised except in the new Memorial Book. The next time the words “We will remember them” are spoken, Dundonians can know that more of our folk are remembered.”
You can find out more about the stories behind the Seamens Memorial in our souvenir special war supplement, The Battle of Passchendaele and Other Events of 1917, free with The Courier on August 1.