Official No:  144592   Port and Year: London, 1920 (LO533)

Description: Castle Class steel side trawler; single screw, coal burning. Ketch rigged.

Crew:  10 men (1921).

Built: 1918,  J. Duthie Torry Shipbuilding Co., Aberdeen.  (Yard no. 447)

Tonnage:  276 grt  119 net.

Length / breadth / depth (feet): 125.6 / 23.6 / 12.7

Engine: T 3-Cyl. 87 rhp; by Bellis & Morcom, Belgium




1920: The Admiralty, London.

Manager: The Secretary, Admiralty, Whitehall, London S.W.1


As LO533

17 Oct 1921:  James Ritchie, 'Glenbrae', Hakin, Milford.

Managing owner.


7 Apr 1926: James Ritchie, 'Glenbrae', Hakin, Milford;  & William T. Davies, 'Wernlwyd', Hakin, Milford.

Managing owners.


4 Aug 1939: St. Andrew's Steam Fishing Co. Ltd., St. Andrew's Dock, Hull.

Manager: Basil A. Parkes, 'Parkroyd', Links Gate, Thornton-le-Fylde, Lancs.


Landed at Milford: 23 Jul, 18 Oct 1921 - 26 Jun 1939

Skippers: Robert Hooper (1923); James Daniel Bryant (1931); James McDonald (1938); Albert Saunders (1938)


William Humphries, age 21, born Carnavon; Landsman (pressed), aboard HMS VICTORY at Trafalgar.

24 Dec 1918: Completed for the Admiralty (no.4205) as WILLIAM HUMPHRIES.

11 May 1920: Sold by auction at Milford and retained same name.

21 Aug 1926: Collided with CHARLES BOYES, by stem striking her port bow.  (See statement below.)

11 Oct 1931: Sank the French crabber THEMIS off the Docks entrance. (See statement, newspaper and court reports below.)

15 Jan 1938: Towed by NEATH CASTLE after storm damage. (See newspaper report and statements.)

29 Sep 1938: Towed AVOLA in Dingle Bay. (See statement.)

21 Nov 1939: Fishing 35m NW of Rathlin Island in company with CUIRASS (GY436) and SULBY (FD87). Between 8.30 – 9.30 a.m. stopped by U-boat (U-33) ; crew abandoned in boat. Shelled and sunk by U-33 (Kapitänleutnant Hans-Wilhelm von Dresky), 75 miles NW of Rathlin Island; all thirteen crew lost. Skipper’s body washed up on Canna; two bodies on Skye and two bodies recovered by WESTLYN (FD8).

[Additional information thanks to Fleetwood Maritime Heritage Trust and The Bosun's Watch.  See also below.]

Accidents and Incidents

The WILLIAM HUMPHRIES and the CHARLES BOYES: Statement by John Yolland, Skipper of the CHARLES BOYES, made in 1926:


    I live at No. 95 Priory Road, Milford Haven.  In August last I was, and still am, the skipper of the "Charles Boyes".


    I remember the 21st of last August.  We were proceeding to sea from the Fish Market after landing. It was in the afternoon. We were proceeding out of Dock and got shaped for the entrance when the "William Humphries" was coming on down the Dock. As we were proceeding out of Dock I heard the Dock man Edwards say to the 'William Humphries", "Go astern". We were practically stopped at the dumphead. He hit us on the port bow. He went outside and we followed him. The "William Humphries" was out of Dock first. I went astern after him.

    The "Charles Boyes" had rung astern before ever he hit us. I cannot say whether Edwards had thrown his wire to us or not at the time. I did not think it was ashore. My bow was about 60 feet from the bollard on the bull nose. The "William Humphries" bow was about 130 feet away from the nearest point of the bull nose. The "Charles Boyes" had come from the Hakin wall. We went astern first up the Dock and straightened her for the Lock and came to dock. We were intending to proceed to sea without throwing any line ashore. When we were in position there were no other vessels round the dumphead. The "William Humphries" had come from Birts Corner.

    When we first noticed the "William Humphries" she was coming ahead at a good speed, I should say 5 knots an hour. When we first noticed the "William Humphries" we were coming for the lock at dead slow, namely, at about one knot an hour.  The order was given to the "William Humphries" to go astern. No order was given to the "Charles Boyes". At the moment the order was given we were still coming ahead gradually. The "William Humphries" was also coming ahead. She had got way on her at the time. It must have been about 3 knots. I do not know what her engines were doing at the time but I should think they were stopped.

    The order to go astern was given to the "William Humphries". I should think the bow of the "William Humphries" was about 100 feet away from the bow of the "Charles Boyes".  I do not think the "William Humphries" could have gone astern at all between the order and the collision.

    The "William Humphries", if she had gone astern, would have brought her stern in towards the wall of Brand and Curzon's Ice Factory. I do not think the "William Humphries" could have got her way off in sufficient time to prevent her running into us even if she had immediately responded to the orders from the Dock head to go astern.

    I claim that it was the "Charles Boyes'" right of way out of Dock as we were on the starboard side of the "William Humphries".  After the order, the "William Humphries" continued to come ahead but the "Charles Boyes" had practically stopped.  I reduced the speed of the "Charles Boyes" as I did not know for certain that we should clear the caisson or whether it would be necessary for me to throw a line ashore.

    There were no shouts or signals of any sort by either vessel. I heard a shout from my mate "Go astern, Skipper".  At this time the "William Humphries" was about half a ship's length away. She was coming ahead. At that time she was practically stopped.

    I did not act on the advice of my mate to go astern. I thought the "William Humphries" would go astern. That is why I did not do so.

    No shouts to us from the "William Humphries".  His stem hit us on our port bow. It was a direct blow. He hit us so hard that the men on our bow were jolted badly. They did not attempt to put a fender down as it would have been dangerous. The "William Humphries" was coming at such a speed that we would not attempt to put a fender down. The "Charles Boyes" was canted over as the result of the blow.

    At the moment of the collision the "Charles Boyes" was stationary. The "William Humphries" was coming ahead at 2 to 3 knots.  The "William Humphries" was 50 to 60 feet away from the dump head at the moment of impact. Her bow was practically up level with the line at the Milford side of the Lock.

    The "Charles Boyes" had no line ashore. The "William Humphries" had no line ashore. I am quite certain of this.

    After the collision and he had shoved our bow to starboard, I went astern to come up for the Lock pits again. The "William Humphries" got a line ashore and went ahead and slewed round the dump head.  I do not know whether the "William Humphries" had to do any manoeuvring after the collision in order to get his line ashore.

    Our port bow was damaged about 15 feet from the stem. It was the "William Humphries'" stem which was damaged.

    I was in the wheel house. No one was with me. All our crew were on duty. The mate was on the bow. His name is Thomas Roach. The Bosun was aft. The deckie and third hand were on the bow with the mate.  I left my position about half an hour before high water.  I cannot remember about the wind.

    I heard no blasts from the "William Humphries". No order was given to me by the Dock man. I should have been able to hear it if it had been given.

    Commander Jones, the Dock's Harbour Master, was not there that afternoon. I am sure no fender was put out by us.

    I say that the excessive speed of the "William Humphries" caused the collision.

    The "William Humphries" then did get a line ashore, and I went astern to let him get out of Dock. We finally went out without checking. We followed the "William Humphries" out of Dock. Our bow was knocked to within a distance of 10 feet from the caisson.



From the West Wales Guardian of Friday 16th October 1931:



Off Entrance to Milford Docks



    At 5.50 a.m. on Sunday a French crabber was run down just off the entrance to Milford Docks by a trawler which was emerging to go to sea.

    On Saturday night five French crabbers were bunched together just off the entrance to the Docks.  On Sunday morning there was a dense fog, one of the worst we have had recently, and when the gates opened at 5 a.m. the trawlers going out had to feel their way very cautiously.

    The s.t. William Humphries (Messrs. Ritchie and Davies) was the last to go out on that tide.  As usual she went out slowly, and on passing between the buoys went ahead, perhaps misled by the fog, instead of veering to starboard.  Almost immediately she crashed into the port side of the French crabber "Themis" (captain and owner J. Gourmelle).  The whole side crumpled up, and the water rushing in she filled and sank, barely giving captain and crew of four men time to scramble aboard one of the other crabbers.  They succeeded, however, and got aboard without injury, but the boat went down, and at low water her masts were just showing.

    The "William Humphries" appeared to be uninjured, and put back into port.  The Frenchmen also came ashore, and Mr. G. Stuart Kelway, the French and Belgian consul, interviewed the French skipper, who alleged that the trawler was going very fast, but this the skipper of the trawler, Mr. Jim Bryant, denied, and said he was going slow on account of the fog.

    The sunken crabber was guarded by a trawler, as her situation, just where the two buoys mark the entrance, is a dangerous one.


Skipper's statement dated 12th October 1931:


    We left the dock this morning at about quarter to six.  It was very thick and after leaving the fairway buoy (about two minutes) they sang out from the bow, "A light ahead", with the same they said, "Full steam astern",  and the next thing 1 knew was we were into this French man.  We hung there for about ten minutes with him.  He then had a chance of getting into his own boat, and going astern leaving she went down.  We turned to then and steamed into the middle of the Haven and dropped our anchor.

    When the skipper of the "Themis" said to me that I had had plenty of beer, that is all I can make of a report.  I was on the bridge with the mate and the remainder of the deck hands were on the bow deck keeping a look out.  We had our steaming lights on.  Mr Jones is the ship's husband.   The fairway buoys are the two nearest the dock entrance.  The chief was down in the engine room, and the speed was a little over two miles an hour, that was the speed at which we were doing after leaving the bull nose.  We rung "slow". He has been my chief for 14 years.  The indicator gives slow but I gave a extra tick and the chief knows that to be dead slow. 

    The bos'n, third hand, deckie and spare hand were on the bow. The bos'n was the man who shouted out.  He is Jack Braddick.  We were the only ship leaving the docks that morning. It was impossible to see across from the Milford side to the Hakin side of the lock pits  which is about 50 feet across.  We could see from the middle of the lock pits to the entrance.  The result was that I had to use my compass to steer by to get through the lock pits.  It was wet fog. 

    We were hanging alongside the Frenchman before I could see her.  We hit her in the port side, just aft side of his rigging.  The dock master was using a mega­phone to give the incoming trawlers their positions in reference to the fairway buoys, as they were unable to see the buoys themselves.  Watchman Hyatt was on the dock head sounding the fog gong (large saucepan) intermittently.  He is a docks employee.  There were also two other dock gatemen on the lookout on the Hakin side of the lock pits.  They were right on the edge of the wall. 

    Probably the "Deeside" passed the Frenchman about an hour or more before the collision. The "Thornton" and "Cleopatra" were respectively the vessels before and after the "Deeside" coming in. 

    It was thick, practically all night long.  I have never known it as thick as it was this morning. It was not a greater speed than 2 to 2  miles.  The speed didn't change from the bull nose.  When we left the dock I meant to anchor out in the stream until daylight, that was on account of the number of big boats lying out in the stream.

    The "William Humphries" is lying now where she was anchored this morning. Only a matter of seconds must have elapsed between the last time we had blown our whistle and the collision.  We blew 3 times between leaving the dock entrance to the time we struck him.  We must have travelled about 4 to 5 hundred yards.  The Frenchman's bell was lying on the cabin hatchway and I saw the man who came aboard of her from the small boat pick up the bell and ring it.  After the collision all the Frenchmen started ringing their bells.

    The Frenchman is a sailing boat with no motor power.  I should think she is under 20 tons gross.  It is one white light only for a sailing vessel lying at anchor. There was hardly a breath of wind this morning.  We could have kept her afloat had we kept close alongside of her.  However I didn't know that she would sink if I came apart from her.

    The Frenchman was heading I think about East and we were going South South West.  I don't think we were more than 12 feet away from the Frenchman when she was first observed from the bow.  I rang astern at once on getting the warning.   I cannot say that our vessel at the moment of impact had started to move astern in the water, it was a very slight impact and nobody on board of us could feel the impact.  There is no damage to the "William Humphries". 

    When we go out we are supposed to anchor to the Westward of the marked buoy.  We  were trying to pick up the marker buoy on our port bow so that we might know were to anchor and to keep clear of the incoming trawlers which I had been told had lost the gates.  We saw the starboard fairway buoy about 5 feet on our starboard side.

    Immediately after the collision we remained stopped and she was still afloat.  We kept our ship right into her for about 10 minutes to enable her crew to get off. They all got into their small boat and they came aboard of us.  Four came aboard.  There are six crew but two of them were on another ship. Two of the French sailing boats left the Milford slipway at 5.30 this morning.   Two of the French crew members aboard of us joined them. As soon as we struck the Frenchman I myself saw a man get out of a small boat, get on to the deck and start to ring the bell.  No one had heard a bell before this.

    We were blowing all the way out of dock, up to the time we struck him.  It was just one blast, fog signal blast, we were not doing any (Roo too too too) signalling.        

    Our own crew reported to me that there was no lights on the Frenchman.  A bell from the Frenchman would have been audible to the dock head.  As soon as we came astern the Frenchman went down.  The chief engineer felt a little shake down below, I felt no blow at alI.  From my bridge I could see the Frenchman at the time we struck him.

    Had we heard a bell we should have been able to keep clear of him.  As we left the dock you could just see the 100m of the dock head lights which are very powerful.


Sgd. James Daniel Bryant. Skipper.


[The Chief Engineer on the "William Humphries" was Mr. William James Boast. ]


Statement by the Ships Husband Mr [?] Jones.


    I followed the "William Humphries" from the bull nose to the dock head and stood there and watched her go out.  I can confirm that there was no sound of any bell coming from the direction of the Frenchmen. I could hear some deep tone bells which are those carried by the big steamers at anchor. I was on the dock head for about a minute after the "William Humphries" left, I then returned to the dock watchman's hut and passed the West Coast premises and straight on towards the market. By the time I had got to the market the collision would have happened. Captain Hurry mentioned to me when we were talking together on the dock head, this is before the "William Humphries" had passed out, that there were several Frenchmen lying in a awkward position, and were not ringing their bells, they were there all day yesterday.  Captain Hurry kept the "William Humphries" back at the bull nose until it was practically high water to enable all the incoming trawlers to try to get in if possible. Several of the trawlers failed to make the entrance this morning owing to the fog. The "Deeside" was one and a half hours coming from Castle Head to the dock this morning.  Normally it would take about twenty minutes.

    Sgd. [?] Jones



HAVERFORDWEST DISTRICT REGISTRY. Writ issued 15th October 1931. 

Between The Owners Of The Sailing Vessel "Themis" Plaintiffs


 The owners of The Steam Trawler "William Humphries" Defendants


         1.                       The plaintiffs have suffered damage by reason of a collision between their sailing vessel "Themis" and the Defendants' Steam Trawler "William Humphries" by the Defendants or their servants as hereinafter appears.

        2.                       Shortly before 6 a.m. GMT on the 11th October 1931 the "Themis", a sailing vessel belonging to the port of Camaret, France of 31.46 tons gross, 44 feet 5 inches in length and 17 feet 2 inches in beam, was at anchor in Milford Haven in the course of a fishing voyage, laden with a cargo of lobsters and crayfish, and manned by a crew of six hands all told. There was a dense fog, there was little or no wind, and the tide was just after high water of little if any force. The "Themis" was about 400 yards off the entrance to Milford Docks and was heading about South East.  The regulation anchor light was being exhibited on board the "Themis" and was burning brightly.  A bell was being sounded for fog in accordance with the regulations at frequent intervals and a good look out was being kept on board of her.

        3.                       In These circumstances those on board the "Themis" heard a blast of a steam trawler apparently leaving the Docks.  Shortly afterwards during a temporary lift of the fog the masthead and both side lights of the "William Humphries" came into view, distant about fifty yards and bearing about abeam on the port side of the "Themis".  The bell of the "Themis" was at once rung continuously, but the "William Humphries", although she was loudly hailed, was so negligently navigated that with her stem she struck the "Themis" a heavy blow on the port side amidships, causing such damage that she sank shortly afterwards.

        4.                       Those on board the "William Humphries" were negligent in the following respects. ­

            A.  They failed to keep a good look out.

            B.  They were improperly  under way in the weather conditions.

            C.  They failed to keep clear of the "Themis" or to take the proper or any steps to do so in due time or at all.

            D.  On hearing the fog signal of the "Themis" forward of the beam, they failed to stop their engines and then to navigate with caution.

            E.  They were proceeding at an excessive speed.

            F.  They failed to ease, stop or reverse their engines in due time or at all.

            G.  They failed to sound their whistle for fog in accordance with the regulations.

            H.  They failed to comply with Articles 15,16,27,& 29 of the regulations for preventing collision at sea.


The Plaintiffs Claim.

        1.                       Judgment against the Defendants and their bail for the damage occasioned as aforesaid.

        2.                       A reference to the Registrar assisted by Merchants to assess the amount of such damage.



                                                                                                            Kenneth Carpmael.

Delivered this 16thday of April 1932 by William A. Crump & Son.

27, Leadenhall Street, London.

Agents for Price & Kelway of Milford Haven, Plaintiffs' Solicitors.



From an unknown local newspaper, dated during the week beginning 5th January 1936:


     The "William Humphries" was reported to be in need of assistance three miles from the Smalls. 

    It was one o'clock in the morning when Mr W. Johns, 2, Gunfort Cottage, Tenby, heard an S.O.S. message on his radio. It read  "William Humphries needs assistance, three miles from Smalls, Cunard liner standing by."

    There was a general breakdown of telephonic communications at the time but the message was brought to St Davids by a Police Inspector who motored out from Haverfordwest.

    Police Sergeant Jones, St Davids, drove to the lifeboat secretary, Dr. Soar, with the information and was of great assistance until the lifeboat was launched.  If the trawler was three miles off the Smalls, there was the danger of her drifting to the  Hats and Barrels. or going on to the reef at the Smalls.

    With such a heavy sea it would probably have been impossible to launch a boat from the liner. The lifeboat was, therefore, launched at ten past two a.m.

    "It was a perilous undertaking and the experience must remain vividly in the minds of those aboard", said Dr. Soar, in his report later.  "We (the secretary also went out in the lifeboat) encountered mountainous seas on the outward journey, and on the return from St. Davids side of the South Bishop to the entrance of Ramsey Sound the seas swept over us."

    Coxswain Ivor Arnold steered the boat to Grassholm, the Hats and Barrels and the Smalls reef, but no vessel in distress could be found.  It was daylight by the time a message was received that the "William Humphries" had miraculously drifted to safely out to sea, away from the hazardous rocks.




From the West Wales Guardian of Friday 21st January 1938:


    Milford trawler fishermen have good cause to remember the hurricane, for most of them were in the thick of it, and boats docking on Sunday and Monday bore many signs of their battering - lifeboats were missing and damaged, gear smashed.  Skippers spoke of waves mountains high.  ..................

    From the Athlone radio station on Saturday came news that  the Milford trawler "William Humphries" (Messrs. Ritchie and Davies) was in difficulties on the westward grounds, and asking ships in the vicinity to stand by. The "William Humphries" , in charge of Skipper James McDonald, was by that time in tow behind the "Neath Castle", a trawler belonging to Consolidated Fisheries, Swansea.  After an eventful voyage, the "William Humphries", her propeller missing, was towed safely into Milford harbour on Sunday night.


Statement dated Monday 17th January 1938:


James Thomas Henry McDonald, Albion St., Milford. Skipper.

    We left Milford for the fishing grounds off the West Coast of Ireland. Every thing went well and on Friday evening last, at 5.15 o'clock we started to steam for home and had proceeded about 70 miles when we lost our propeller, presumably by striking a floating wreck. The time was then 12.45a.m. Saturday.  Our position then was 50.10-10.34W, otherwise 180 miles West South West from St.Ann's Head.  When either the shaft is broken or the blades stripped the engines start to race. I was on duty at that particular time. There was a gale of wind of approximately 80 miles per hour from the West North West direction. The sea was terrific. 

    As soon as she lost her propeller the vessel was beyond control. Consequently, she shipped two exceedingly heavy seas, flooding my cabin and the engine room, also the forecastle, doing extensive damage, including loss of my lifeboat, bursting chart room casing, leak in forehold, losing ventilator on the port side and damaging my hold generally. The leak in the forehold was below the water line. There was also a leak into the engine room. At 1.25 a.m. I started to send out distress signals on my radio telephone 140 meters, calling all stations, and receiving a reply from the S.T."William Downes".

    I kept in communication with the "William Downes" until 7a.m.The answer I was getting from the "William Downes" being "I am unable to locate you." About twenty minutes to eight I heard the "Neath Castle" of Swansea.  l told him my state and he immediately received a bearing from me on his direction finder, and one hour later he was alongside of us, ready to give me all assistance necessary. The time was now 9.50a.m. (Saturday). 

    After both ships had been prepared for the tow and the weather being still severe, we never made communication until 12.45p.m. We then proceeded on our course in tow of the "Neath Castle" to Milford, which we reached 3.30a.m. today. (Monday).

    The wind started to freshen at noon on Friday. Up to that time, the wind was fairly bad, say about 40 miles an hour. It had been like that for four or five days. The loss of the propeller rendered the" William Humphries" practically helpless.  We rigged a sea anchor by shackling a trawl board to 500 fathoms of warp. The force of the wind prevented this acting at all.  We were at the mercy of the elements.  At this time we would have been about 90 miles West to West South West of the Fastnets.

    The pumps worked by the engines were not capable of dealing with the water in the forehold. We had two hand worked pumps. These two pumps were used on the forehold and kept the water down there to a level. The engine worked pumps were able to keep down the water in the remaining parts of the ship.  There was no danger of sinking from the leaks we had got.

    The reply from the "William Downes" came within about ten minutes.  She was then, I imagine, about 70 miles away. The Skipper of the "William Downes" imagined he was only 40 miles from me.  The "William Downes" started to steam in my direction as soon as he had picked up my message.  He could only steam at slow speed owing to the weather conditions.  As soon as the response came from the "William Downes" I ceased sending out distress signals, but continued to keep in touch with him until 6a.m., when we decided that one or the other was wrong as regards the position.  I then attempted to give him a direction finder bearing, my ship being equipped with a direction finder.

    Failing to do this, and my ship being in a precarious condition, I appealed to any ship that might be in the vicinity, receiving a reply from the "Neath Castle". Being equipped with an Operator, the "Neath Castle" immediately took a bearing of my ship, which proved that my dead reckoning position was given by me to the "William Downes" was correct.

    The "Neath Castle" at that time was 14 miles away in a South West direction from me.  I had the reply from the "Neath Castle" as soon as I called him.  We were battened down before we started to steam for Milford.

    We saw no other vessel during the night of Saturday, and the visiblity, owing to the weather conditions, was practically nil.  It was 12.30p.m. Saturday when the "Neath Castle" and my trawler first attempted to get connected for towing. The period from 10a.m.to 12.30 p.m. was occupied by the "Neath Castle" in making the necessary preparations such as splicing warps and rigging a spring, which would avoid parting of warps etc. 

    The "Neath Castle" and I carne to an understanding and the conditions were these.  That I should let down to him a line connected to four floats.  When he had picked these four floats up, the end of the line aboard my ship was connected to my two warps.  They were then hove aboard the "Neath Castle" and connected to 15 fathom of anchor cable of the "Neath Castle", which was to act as a spring.  This was later connected to "Neath Castle's" warps.  There was approximately 150 fathom of his warps.   We were towing now with 150 fathoms of my warps, a [?] length of his warps and 15 fathom of cable. 

    The first time he picked up my floats, he did not have to come dangerously near to me to pick them up. He probably carne within about one hundred yards of us.  There was definitely a risk on the occasion in question of the towing line becoming entangled in the propeller of the "Neath Castle", pending the towing rope becoming taut.

    The wind was at this time beginning to moderate slowly with a rising glass, the sea was still very rough.  At the time the floats were put overboard, the "Neath Castle" was approximately in the position where my sea anchor was lying.  The "Neath Castle"had to steam to where my floats were lying on the water, which would be some where abaft my beam on the starboard side.

    At the time we got connected up at 12.45p.m., the "William Downes" arrived on the scene.  During the morning the visibility was practically nil. There was 240 fathoms of line attached to the floats.  At the time the tow started, we were about 180 miles from St Ann's Head and about 80 or 90 miles from the nearest point on the  Irish Coast, namely the Fastnets.

    At 3.15 on Saturday afternoon, after towing East North East the distance which was registered on a very unreliable Log 16 miles, one of my warps parted, being one of the two connected up on my vessel.  We immediately got into communication with the "Neath Castle" over the telephone ordering him to stop.  We then connected a new tow rope by heaving the "Neath Castle's" cable to my deck and refastening on two new lengths of warp, the other of the two warps which I had put on at the outset had become frayed as a result of the towing operations. All the warps of the "William Humphries" were brand new ones. During the period occupied by me in coupling up again, the "Neath Castle" was not exposed to any greater risk then she had been when towing us.  We resumed towing about 3.45p.m. The weather was moderating all the time and the sea going down a bit.

    For the remainder of the night of Saturday - Sunday, the towing was perfect without any further trouble.  During this period the Skipper of the "Neath Castle" was doubtful of his position.  Frequently he got bearings from different Land Stations.  After deciding on his course, which was altered to a point and a half Northward, the "Neath Castle" informed me of his alteration and we proceeded comfortably.

    Subsequently we sighted land, mistaking the said land for Skomer Island.  It subsequently proved to be St. Ann's Head. Owing to this mistake, we over-ran our position and found ourselves at Caldy Island. This, of course, required an alteration of courses. After proceeding on a West South West course, we found ourselves in a position four miles South East of St.Govans Lightship. Immediately afterwards we parted both my warps.  I immediately dropped anchor.  I was then in nine fathom of water with a heavy ground swell, with the wind West South West.  The time I dropped anchor was 9.15p.m.Sunday. We hove in our broken ends of warps, the "Neath Castle" doing the same. We both proceeded to splice new eyes.

    The "Neath Castle" then came back to us, using his Life saving Apparatus Gun to pass us a line, to which was connected his two warps.  We then shackled our warps to his warps. The tow, after heaving our anchor, was once again started at 25 minutes past 12.

    We arrived in Milford Haven 3.15 a.m. to-day (Monday).  There were practically 30 hours of towing without incident. We got his line straightaway off St. Govans. The weather was freshening again from West North West, with a heavy ground swell.

    It was 25 minutes to four yesterday afternoon, Sunday, that we first sighted land. As we thought the land was Skomer Island, the course was shaped for St. Ann's. As however, the land had not been Skomer Island, the course we took brought us to Caldy Island. The land we saw was distant about two miles. Visibility was still bad then. If we had been left to our own resources when we sighted what afterwards proved to be St. Ann's Head, we should have been carried on to the rocks of Linney Head, allowing for a Southerly set of the tide which is extreme at that corner. It is doubtful if any anchor could have saved us. If we had sent out a distress call at that time, we should, doubtless, have  been salved by some vessel in the vicinity, including the vessels at anchor off Milford Docks. I should think we were not more than half a mile from Caldy when we recognised the Island from its lights. If the lights on Caldy had been lit earlier, we should have been able to see it from a distance of more than half a mile. The lamp could only just have been lighted as we approached the island.  Had we been left to our own resources at that moment, we would probably have gone ashore on a sand bank in that neighbourhood. Our anchor at St. Govans would have held us indefinitely.   We should have had a drift of three or four hours before we should have run into any trouble, assuming the anchor was of no value to us.

    We were carrying three anchors. One only proved to be necessary off St.Govans and that had 45 fathoms of cable connected to it. There was no further incident between St. Govans and Milford.

    We did not ground any where. After resuming the tow from St. Govans, the swell went down and the wind subsided. It was not a dangerous voyage between St. Govans and St. Ann's. There was no danger on the part of the "Neath Castle" in coupling up again off St.Govans.  There was just the ordinary chance of the tow rope fouling the propeller. From St. Govans to St. Ann's, the type of towing line was the same, except that we did not use the spring. The "Neath Castle" had had to chop the spring away and loose it.  We decided not to use the spring because the weather had improved. There were several vessels in the neighbourhood of Caldy Island which, if necessary, could have come to our assistance there.  No one was injured on either vessel.


Statement by the Mate of the WILLIAM Humphries, Tom Pook :

I live at 53, Brooke Avenue, Milford, and I am the Mate of the "William Humphries". I confirm all that the Skipper has stated in so far as it lies within my knowledge. I came up on deck about a quarter of an hour after the sea had struck us. I remained on deck until we proceeded to start the towing, went below then at 2 p.m Saturday, and remained below for about an hour until just after the ropes parted. I remained on deck then until 1 a.m. Sunday. I then went below and came on watch again at 7.30a.m. Sunday. I then went below and came on watch again at 7.30a.m. Sunday, and from that time onwards, l remained at my station until we arrived in Milford.


Statement by the Chief Engineer of the WILLIAM Humphries, Edward Robert Webb:

    I live at 23, Waterloo Road, Hakin, Milford. I am the Chief Engineer of the above vessel.

    At about 12.45a.m. Saturday I was on watch in the engine room when a crash occurred and the engines suddenly started to race at a high speed. I was not able at once to see what had happened.

    I stopped the engines and tried them then at dead-slow, and they raced.  I at once came to the conclusion that it was either the propeller had gone, or the tail end shaft. I at once notified the Skipper. I should say that the crash was a result of the propeller striking some submerged wreck. I felt a second crash about a minute or so after the first crash, I could detect the second crash as being the shipping of a sea. This second crash filled the engine room, stokehold and cabin with water.

    I at once then started up my auxiliary pumps, these consist of the after donkey, my emergency pump and my injector.  The donkey pump is worked off a separate auxiliary engine, the emergency pump is worked from my centrifugal pump and the main injector is from the boiler. As the stokehold was filled with ashes and the bilges were choked, I had a lot of trouble with all the pumps trying to keep them clear.  We were able to keep down the level of the water. The main engine was not stopped on account of water, but on account of the racing.

    When the first parting of the tow rope occurred I was on deck, That is all I can speak to as regards what happened on the deck. All the down below staff was busy down below clearing out the ashes and bilges to permit continuation to pump. That was the only purpose I had in mind. In the first place I should say there was about seven feet of water in the engine room.  It was two feet above the engine room platform.  We reduced that level to nothing by about eight thirty of Sunday morning.    

    We were about thirty hours clearing.  Once I had her clear I had no difficulty in keeping the water down to nothing. It was not necessary after eight thirty on Sunday morning to keep the pumps going continuously. We had a connection between our main engine, also the donkey pump, and the forehold, but as my engine was out of action, we could not run the main engine for use in connection with the forehold. The water in the forehold was accordingly dealt with by hand pumps. The water came up to the lowest pit of the fires, but did not extinguish the fires.  The same boiler runs the main engine as runs the auxiliaries.



 Statement by Albert Saunders, Skipper of the WILLIAM HUMPHRIES, dated 7th October 1938


    On Thursday the 29th September 1938, we were fishing in Dingle Bay. The weather was light  squally with West North West winds accompanied by heavy ground swell.

    About 9.a.m. I received a Radio Telephone message from the Skipper of the S.T. "Avola" of Milford.  He stated that he wanted assistance and asked me to haul in my fishing gear and stand by him, which I did. About I0 o'clock of the morning of the same day he asked me to come alongside and take him in tow for Milford. I put my two warps aboard of him and commenced towing, the time being shortly after 10 o'clock.

    We continued towing the "Avola" until 1 o'clock when I received another radio message from the "Avola" that her rudder was now workable and to let go our wires, but to keep standing by until he had satisfied himself that every thing was alright.  The "Avola" steamed round for nearly an hour, we standing by all the time.

    When the Skipper of the "Avola" was satisfied, we returned to the grounds to continue fishing. There was no other vessels in the vicinity and the wind was blowing towards the land which was only about two miles distant. The time occupied by me in rendering these services was about six hours. During the towing operations we sustained damage to our Lifeboat fittings, and about 200 fathoms of each of the warps were badly strained. I kept the Owners of the "Avola" acquainted with the position from time to time by wireless and also notified my Owners.

    I should have mentioned that at the time I received the first message from the "Avola" my fishing gear had only been down two hours instead of the ordinary five hours. Consequently I lost the best part of the daylight fishing which of course is the best fishing time.


Sgd. Albert Saunders, (Skipper)


[The "William Humphries" was awarded £525 for salvage, and £53.7.8. for damage done to her warps.]



From http://www.uboat.net/allies/merchants/109.html :

Between 08.30 and 09.20 hours on 21 Nov, 1939, U-33 sank the Sulby and William Humphries about 75 miles northwest of Rathlin, each with about 5 rounds from the deck gun.

The crew of William Humphries abandoned ship in one lifeboat, which was last seen by a lifeboat from the other trawler. Two bodies were later washed ashore and buried on the Isle of Skye.


 Back to Other Registrations Q-Z