Tuesday 10 April 1917 – We Lost 2,038

by greatwarliveslost

Beechey brothers and mother

HMHS Salta (Master Benjamin Thomas Eastaway) is mined and sunk ½ mile north of Whistle Buoy, Le Havre while on a voyage from Southampton for Le Havre with medical stores. During the morning a French patrol craft has found mines drifting in the Le Havre approaches and all vessels entering the port are to be warned. The mines have been laid the previous day by the German mine-laying submarine UC26. At 11:20 Salta approaches the port entrance and stops her engines. A patrol craft instructs the Salta convoy to follow it towards the English drifter Diamond which checks the identity of each ship before opening the barrage allowing entry into the port. Satisfied, the drifter gives its green light and Salta is authorized to continue.

While following the buoyed channel into Le Havre, Salta’s Captain gives orders to alter course to the north. The commander of the Diamond relays a frantic message that Salta is now approaching the zone where mines have been seen that morning. One of the Salta’s surviving officers’ reports that Eastaway is concerned about entering Le Havre without a pilot because of the bad weather and had wanted to let the other ships pass. Realizing that they are in grave danger, Eastaway tries to re-trace his course back to the buoyed channel. In poor weather conditions, Salta drifts across the mined zone and hits a mine at 11:43. An enormous explosion breaches the hull near the engine room and hold number three, water engulfs the disabled ship, which lists to starboard and sinks in less than 10 minutes.

His Majesty’s Ship Druid proceeds to render assistance and gets alongside a swamped boat of the Salta. All the occupants of the boat are rescued except a Hospital Sister and Private Samuel Bodsworth (RAMC). The former is so exhausted that she is unable to hold the ropes thrown to her, and eventually becomes unconscious. Although he might have been rescued, Private Bodsworth persists in remaining in the boat with the Sister, and, after she has fallen overboard and been hauled back again, he finally succeeds in placing a line around her body, by means of which she is hauled on board the Druid. For his efforts he will be awarded the Albert Medal.

Despite help arriving rapidly, the state of the sea and the strong winds hamper the rescue operation and the human cost is appalling. Of 205 passengers and crew, 9 nurses, 42 wounded and 79 crew members perish along with the Master.

  • Also killed is Assistant Steward William Reginald Turner (Mercantile Marine) whose brother was killed in action on Gallipoli in June 1915.

The sinking of the Salta has another victim. The English patrol craft P-26 is involved in the rescue operations and hits another mine, the ship is split in two and sinks taking 19 of her crew with her.

‘Sir’ William Robertson advocates to General Douglas Haig the dispatch of an immediate American expeditionary force “to get some Americans killed and so get the country to take a real interest in the war”.

Private Horace Waller VC (King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry) is killed in action performing the acts this will win him the Victoria Cross at age 20. A very violent counter-attack is made by the enemy on his post, and although five of the garrison are killed, Private Waller continues for more than an hour to throw bombs, and finally repulses the attack. In the evening the enemy again counter-attacks the post and all the garrison became casualties, except Private Waller, who, although wounded later, continues to throw bombs for another half an hour until he is killed. Throughout these attacks he shows the utmost valor, and it is due to his determination that the attacks on this important post are repulsed.

Today’s losses include:

  • One of the five Beechey brothers
  • Multiple families that will lose two and three sons in the Great War
  • A Victoria Cross winner
  • The brother of a General
  • Multiple sons of members of the clergy
  • Multiple writers to the Signet
  • A Canadian politician
  • A Great War Poet

Today’s highlighted casualties include:

  • Major Benjamin Bennett Leane (Australian Infantry) is killed in action at age 27 at Bullecourt. He is the brother of Brigadier General Leane and has a brother who was killed in January 1917.
  • Captain Douglas William Arthur Nicholls MC (Suffolk Regiment) is killed. He is the son of the Reverend Francis Hamilton Nicholls Vicar of St Mary’s Ipswich.
  • Captain Charles Edward Stewart MC (Durham Light Infantry) is killed in action at age 29. He is a Writer to the Signet in Edinbrugh and his brother was killed in September 1916.
  • Lieutenant John Hatchell Halliday Christie (British Columbia Regiment) is killed in action at age 25. He is the son of the Reverend William John Christie.
  • Lieutenant William Bell (Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders) is killed in action. His brother died of wounds in April 1915.
  • Lieutenant John Alexander Williamson (Royal Flying Corps) is killed at home at age 20. His brother was killed when HMS Bulwak exploded.
  • Lieutenant Benjamin Bell Gray (British Columbia Regiment) is killed at age 29. He is the son of the late Reverend William Alexander Gray.
  • Second Lieutenant George Godfrey Gray (Oxford and Bucks Light Infantry) is killed at age 22. His brother was killed last October.
  • Lieutenant Joseph Emmett Stauffer (Alberta Regiment) is killed in action at age 43. He is a teacher and politician from Alberta. Stauffer was elected to the Alberta Legislature in the 1909. In that election he defeated incumbent Cornelius Hiebert in a landslide in the new Didsbury He was re-elected to a second term in office in the 1913 Alberta legislature, winning with a comfortable but reduced plurality. Stauffer enlisted in the Canadian Forces and served overseas with the Canadian Infantry He kept his seat in the provincial legislature while he was overseas fighting in the war. Lieutenant Governor Robert Brett honored Stauffer’s memory and military service by making special note in the Throne Speech at the opening of the 4th Alberta Legislative Assembly on 7th February 1918. The small town of Stauffer, Alberta is named in his honor.
  • Lieutenant Pendarves Christopher Foll Gibson (Royal Fusiliers) is killed at age 37. He is the son of the Reverend Edward Pendarves Gibson Rector of Stock.
  • Second Lieutenant David Campbell MacEwen (Royal Scots) dies of wounds received near Roclincourt on the previous day at age 31. He is a member of the Society of Writers to the Signet.
  • Lance Corporal Harold Reeve Beechey (Australian Infantry) is killed at age 26. He is the third of five brothers who will lose their lives in the Great War. They are sons of the Reverend Prince William Beechey.
  • Private Malcolm Martin (Seaforth Highlanders) dies of wounds. His brother will be killed in July.
  • Private E Dean (South Staffordshire Regiment) is killed at age 24. His brother will die on service of pneumonia in September 1919.
  • Private George Reid (Gordon Highlanders) dies at age 22. His twin will die on service at home in 1920 at age 24.
  • Private Albert James Trussler (Warwickshire Regiment) is killed at age 18. He is the last of three brothers who are killed in the Great War.
  • Private William Rennie (King’s Own Scottish Borderers) dies of wounds at home at age 19. His brother was killed in September 1915.
  • Private Joseph Handscombe (Bedfordshire Regiment) is killed at age 28. His brother was killed last July.
  • Company Sergeant Major William Henry Littlejohn (Middlesex Regiment) is killed in action at age 26. He was a Civil Servant at the Exchequer and Audit Department and one of the Great War Poets.

The Hospital Ship

There is a green-lit hospital ship,
Green, with a crimson cross,
Lazily swaying there in the bay,
Lazily bearing my friend away,
Leaving me dull-sensed loss.
Green-lit, red-lit hospital ship,
Numb is my heart, but you carelessly dip
There in the drift of the bay.

There is a green-lit hospital ship,
Dim as the distance grows,
Speedily steaming out of the bay,
Speedily bearing my friend away
Into the orange-rose.
Green-lit, red-lit hospital ship,
Dim are my eyes, but you heedlessly slip
Out of their sight from the bay.

There was a green-lit hospital ship,
Green, with a blood-red cross,
Lazily swaying there in the bay,
But it went out with the light of the day –
Out where the white seas toss.
Green-lit, red-lit hospital ship,
Cold are my hands and trembling my lip:
Did you make home from the bay?

  • Second Lieutenant Arthur James “Hamish” Mann (Black Watch) dies of wounds received the previous day at Arras at age 21. Three days before his death he wrote the following poem:

Some lie in graves beside the crowded dead

In village churchyards; others shell holes keep

Their bodies gaping, all their splendour sped.

Peace, O my soul…A Mother’s part to weep. 

Day. Do they watch with keen all-seeing eyes

My own endeavours in the whirling hell?

Ah, God! How great, how grand the sacrifice

Ah, God! The manhood of yon men who fell.

And this is war…Blood and woman’s tears

Brave memories adorn the quaking years