This site is home to all of the material gathered as part of the “Laurentic Legacy” project by The Ulster Canada Initiative. There are sections with audio and video interviews, photographs, recollections, letters and more. Over the past ten years we have made contact with a number of families whose lives were touched by this tragedy, from Ireland, Scotland, England, Wales, Australia, Canada and Newfoundland. If you have any connections with HMS Laurentic or any information about crew members, please do get in touch with us. If you or your family lost someone in the tragedy, there is a search function at the bottom of each page to help you find any material we may have. Simply enter the man’s name in the search box to find their story. The process of adding to the list of biographies we have is ongoing, if you have any details or information you would be willing to share you can use the contact form here on the website to get in touch.
2017 marked the 100th anniversary of the sinking of HMS Laurentic. Shortly after the outbreak of the war S.S. Laurentic, a luxury liner of the White Star Line, was commissioned by the admiralty and put into service as a troop transport vessel for the Canadian Expeditionary Force, painted grey, and reclassified as HMS Laurentic. By November 1914 the ship had been re-commissioned as an armed merchant cruiser and was engaged on patrol and transport duties in the Far East, West coast of Africa, East Indies, China, North America and West Indies.
Towards the end of December 1916 HMS Laurentic was recalled to Liverpool to prepare for what was to become its last voyage. Just before daybreak on the 25th of January, on route to Halifax, Nova Scotia, the ship made an unscheduled stop at Buncrana, Donegal and had just set off again at 5pm when it was struck by two mines at the mouth of Lough Swilly. It took less than an hour for the ship to go down. Many of men managed to escape the sinking ship only to die of exposure due to the bitterly cold weather before their lifeboats were recovered. The temperature on the 25th of January 1917 at Lough Swilly was reported as -13 degrees C.
This website looks at the men (Naval Reservists, Armed Forces personnel, Merchant Seamen, former crewmen of the White Star Line) who died in the sinking. The official figure from The Admiralty for the number of fatalities is 349 (some unofficial sources say 354). Of these, 68 are buried in St Mura’s cemetery, Fahan (according to the memorial inscription), 69 according to contemporary newspaper accounts, and 2 are buried in Cockhill cemetery, Buncrana, county Donegal, near the site of the tragedy. On inspecting the burial record book for St Mura’s we see that the number of men buried there was amended to 73 at a later date. This corresponds with the local civil register of deaths in May 1917 where four unidentified men are recorded as having died on 26th January 1917 at sea, from “shock and exposure”. A few men were brought by their families to be buried near their homes. Sadly many of the men have no graves, as they were never found. They are commemorated on WW1 war memorials: on the Beaumont-Hamel (Newfoundland) memorial, The Somme, France; Chatham Naval memorial, Kent, England; Plymouth Naval Memorial, Devon and Portsmouth Naval Memorial, Hampshire, England, as well as a number of local WW1 memorials. No single memorial brings together all of the men who lost their lives on The Laurentic.
In this project we have attempted to expand on the few details provided on the existing memorials to give a better understanding of the lives of those who died. By drawing together information from a variety of sources – from newspaper archives, military service records, census returns, and where possible personal family archives and oral history – we have tried to build portraits, however fragmentary, of the civilian lives of these men. These portraits vary in depth, but can perhaps still teach us something of this generation of men and how this event affected their loved ones.
This is an ongoing project. In some cases we have not yet been able to find any material, in others, only a record of their birth or death with nothing of their life, but the website will grow as more information is gathered.
Every care has been taken to be accurate with the information included, however there may be some errors caused by inconsistencies in recorded information. We will continue to review and amend the biographies as the site grows.
Original research for the site is carried out by Martha McCulloch, with additional material supplied by relatives and friends of the project from their personal archives and the invaluable support of Peter Threlfall. Site development and maintenance by Harry Kerr. Material presented on the site may not be reproduced without the express written consent of the relevant author(s).