Saturday the 28th January 2017, was the day that the people of Inishowen had selected to mark the Centenary of the Sinking of the HMS Laurentic at the mounth of Lough Swilly, on the very stormy, freezing cold night of the 25th January 1917. The Ship sailed over two German mines, which detonated amidship, causing her to sink very quickly. There were some 475 men on board, comprising Royal Naval personnel,Royal Naval Reserve personnel, Royal Marines and members from the Newfoundland Expeditionary Force. Sadly from this number some 354 men would lose their lives before morning.
We all assembled at The Parish Church of Saint Mura, in the Parish of Upper Fahan at 11.00am, when a short Service of Remembrance was held for all those who lost their lives on The Laurentic. This year we were joined by a number of relatives who came over to mark the following crew members, Signaller Victor Davidson Yule from Dundee; Newfounder RNR Luke Smith; Seaman Harry Dyre RNR from Devon;Leading Seaman Thomas Pike from Devon; Reserve Seaman Thomas Yetman from Newfoundland: Seaman Ephraim Freake also from Newfoundland: Seaman John Heaney from Arklow ; Seaman Leslie H Brinston from North Harbour, Newfoundland and finally Seaman Walter Fitzgerald from Ballymacawin, Co Waterford.
Some interesting statistics that we learned from His Excellence Kevin Vickers, Ambassador based at The Embassy of Canada in Dublin are as follows. At the start of The Great War in 1914, the population of Canada was approximately 8,000,000 people, and of these some 660,000 Canadians volunteered to serve in support of The British Isles. Of this number some 20,000 were first generation Irish Settlers, who returned home to fight. Sadly on the first day of the Somme, Newfoundland lost a complete generation of men who lost their lives on that day. Then in 1917, on the sinking of the SS Laurentic, a further number of Newfoundlanders were lost at sea, at the mouth of Lough Swilly.
As always, there was a good turnout of British Legion men in attendance along with a piper and a bosun complete with whistle. Tracy McGrory, the well known Traditional Irish Musician was in attendance and played The Laurentic Lament on violin during the Church service and then again at the wreath laying ceremony in the grave-yard.
A similar Act of Remembrance was then held at the Laurentic Memorial in the graveyard beside St Mary’s Chapel, Cockhill, located on the outskirts of Buncrana. Here again there was a good number present, and attention was drawn to the adjacent memorial which commemorates all those drowned on the sinking of the SS Abercorn, also during The Great War. A number of the wreaths were laid on this memorial to mark their memory.
Up on a sidewall, under the balcony in Saint Mura’s Parish Church is an old poster with a water colour of the SS Laurentic.
Underneath, we find an un-recorded poem entitles “The Loss of the Laurentic” and the entire sheet has been signed at the bottom by a Mr R Latham.The words are as follows :-
In nineteen Seventeen the proud Laurentic,
Was bound from Ireland to the USA.
When the Germans sank her out in the Atlantic,
Off Donegal one bitter winter day.
None saw the torpedo that destroyed her,
None saw the submarine that launched the blow.
They only felt the shattering explosion,
That stopped the engines throbbing heart below.
The wounded vessel quivered, paused & listed,
Plunged to her death beneath the hungry waves.
And in that fearful wilderness of water,
300 gallant soldiers found their graves.
A precious ship & precious lives were lost there,
And lost the precious cargo in her hold.
Five million pounds of glittering gleaming ingots,
Three thousand two hundred bars of gold.
The finest divers in the British Navy,
Skilled men of courage and tenacity.
At home in that strange world of swirling water,
Were sent to wrest that treasure from the sea.
They dared the hazards of the winds & the tides,
Of shifting sand, strong currents and floating mine.
Of cutting edges that could mean disaster,
Of falling wreckage fouling pipe and line.
For seven years they battled to recover,
The wealth that lay there wasting in the deep.
Until at last, they feed those prisoned riches,
The jealous sea had fought so hard to keep.
Man by his skill can build an ocean liner,
Man by his skill can send her to her doom.
Can by his skill, bring back the buried treasure,
In the Church of Ireland Church in Port Salon, you will finf one of the bells from the SS Laurentic in use, to call the faithful to Church and in the harbour in Downings, you will find a memoria to the SS Laurentic and one of the six inch guns salvaged from the wreck.