Murray Engine Works
The Round School
The DLI & Chester
Gt. North Road
The Great Flood
CAN YOU HELP?
Shrove Tuesday Football
Donald O Clarke
A Brief History
Murder at Mill
Vincent "Bush" Parker
The Cestrian Club
A Dastardly Deed
The Lumley Warriors
CLS Cricket Club
Meet the Members
WOOLWORTHS - End of an Era
NEWS & EVENTS
THANKS FOR THE MEMORIES
100 Years Ago
Links for Chester-le-Street Heritage Group
Would you like to see a Heritage Centre in Chester-le-Street
A Dastardly Deed during World War I.
|In the late 1800's, Ralph Henderson, a butcher, and his wife Mary had a shop at Bridge End, Chester-le-Street, where they resided with their family. This included a daughter, Elizabeth Jane, who, like her younger brother Thomas and sister Margaret, had been born at Pelton.
The census of 1891 shows Mary as being a widow running the butcher's shop, and daughters Elizabeth, a dressmaker, Mary a milliner and Son Thomas a drapers assistant.
In 1898 Elizabeth married William James Robinson of Durham, whose parents resided at Hallgarth St. Durham city. His father was a master baker, and later an auctioneer at Robinson's Salerooms in New Elvet.
In 1900 a son was born to William and Elizabeth and he was christened Ralph Henderson Robinson, probably in memory of his late grandfather Ralph. In the 1901 census the family was recorded as living at 6, Bridge End, Chester-le-Street.
Young Ralph grew up and attended school in the town and gained an insight into the butchery trade. However at some time in his teenage years he became interested in the Merchant Navy and on leaving school gained employment with the Prince Line, a Newcastle shipping company as a deck apprentice, a trainee navigation officer.
This was not an auspicious time to be at sea, during the first World War. In 1917, at the age of 17 Ralph was an apprentice on the Belgian Prince, owned by the Prince Line. The ship had been built by Sir J. Laing and Sons at Sunderland in 1901. The vessel had a gross tonnage of 4,765 and she was 391 feet in length, 51.2 feet in breadth and the single screw gave a surface speed of 11 knots.
Named the Mohawk at her launch, her original owners were Hogan's Menantic Steam Ship Company of New York. In 1902 this company became the North Atlantic SS Co. of Bristol. The ship was sold to the Prince Line along with two others in 1912 and renamed the Hungarian Prince. In 1915, following the onset of war, the ship was renamed Belgian Prince as Hungary was now an enemy nation.
On the 24th February 1915 the ship was chased by a U-Boat in the English Channel but managed to outpace it.
On 29th July 1917 the young apprentice Ralph Henderson Robinson was on board the Belgian Prince when she left the port of Liverpool to cross to Newport News, U.S.A. with a cargo of blue clay. The ship was unescorted and under the command of Captain Hassan with a crew of 43, all British.
Her engine had recently been overhauled in Liverpool and all was well.
|Photo of Ralph H Robinson
Just before 8 p.m. on the 31st July, the ship was 48 hours out of Liverpool, 175 miles north-west from Tory Island off the coast of Co. Donegal, Ireland, when she was hit by a torpedo.
The torpedo struck the after part of the ship, exploded and broke the propeller shaft, engine and generator.
The ship was doomed and Capt. Hassan ordered the crew to abandon ship as it heeled over to port. Three lifeboats were lowered , one crew man was left aboard by accident but survived the sinking.
A U-Boat surfaced nearby and opened fire on the sinking vessel to destroy the radio equipment and
prevent a message being sent. The crew rowed the lifeboats away from the ship and the U-Boat continued to machine gun the ship. The U-Boat then trained its machine gun on the lifeboats.
The U-Boat, U-44 was built in 1915 and commanded by Kapitan Leutnant Paul Wagenfuhr, with a crew of 39 and a top speed of 15 knots. It then ordered the lifeboats alongside as it stopped in the water and demanded that Capt. Hassan identify himself. Fearing for the safety of his crew he stood up and was immediately taken on board the U-Boat.
Wagenf uhr ordered the lifeboat crews onto the deck of the sub- marine where their life-jackets
and outer clothing were taken from them and tossed overboard.
The U-Boat crew then smashed the lifeboats with axes. Within a short time the U-Boat started its
engines and motored along the surface with the 42 survivors clinging on to the deck. After about 2 miles the U-Boat stopped, the conning tower was closed and as it blew its tanks began to submerge. Many of the survivors were washed from the deck casing, while others jumped into the sea to avoid being sucked under by the wash of the submarine.
|The Bulgarian Prince, identical sister
ship to the Hungarian Prince later re-
named the Belgian Prince. The third
ship was the Serbian Prince.
A number of the crew were at this point drowned and an account by one of the three survivors who were later picked up by a patrol boat, recounted that "It was almost dark when I heard a voice calling for help and I found the youngest member of the ship's crew, a 16 year old apprentice drifting nearby". "The boy had managed to find a lifejacket but was near death, having swallowed a lot of water. He
died from shock and exposure about midnight". The survivor eased him out of the life-jacked
and allowed him to slip beneath the waves. Could that apprentice have been Ralph H. Robinson?
Probably yes, as he was only 16 years and 11 months when he died.
The three survivors were picked up after 11 hours in the sea. Capt. Hassan also survived having spent the rest of the war in a prisoner of war camp.
As for Kapitan Wagenfuhr he maintained that he submerged because of the nearness of a naval vessel to him. Responsible for sinking 72,332 tons of allied shipping U-44 was eventually rammed by HMS Oracle off southern Norway on 12th August.1917 and sunk with all hands including Kapitan Leutnant Wagenfuhr.
HMS Oracle which Rammed U-44 in August 1917 off Norway.
This page has been visited times.