In early september reports were filtering back as to what had happened to the trawlers
and their crews. A message came that a Dutchman who had been on the trawler “Seti”
had been released and made his way back to England. He reported that it had been
the German cruiser “Albatross” that had sunk at least 7 Boston trawlers including
the Julian and that the crews had been taken prisoner and landed at Wilhemshaven.
Another seaman by the name of Neilson, a Norwegian, also a neutral who was released,
said that he had seen three shots sink the Julian on August 22nd, and had also witnessed
the sinking of others. A total of 23 boats from Boston & Grimsby.were taken or sunk
between 22nd & 26th.
Another version of events says that about 1am on the morning of 22nd the Boston
steam trawlers Marney and Julian were boarded in quick succession by sailors from
the German torpedo boat V160 - the crews were taken off and bombs were first set
on the Marney, then 3 shells fired at the Julian. And so Charles Walkerley and
17 other men found themselves taken into captivity, just 18 days after the declaration
They were taken ashore to naval barracks at Wilhelmshaven, most without hats and
boots. The next day they were marched two miles to a prison at Cuxhaven, past streets
of jeering Germans. Reports in Germany about alleged mis-treatment of German internees
in England meant they were harshly treated and badly fed.
They then endured terrible conditions in hulks at Hamburg before
being taken to Sennelager.
It was the middle of September before any of their families
began to receive letters from their menfolk. The American
Consulate looked after their affairs and liaised with the
Foreign Office and the fishing Companies.
The men were soon split up and sent on to different camps,
but 136 fishermen were taken to a military camp at Sennelager,
This camp also held about 5000 British, French and Belgian
soldiers captured at Mons. Conditions were not good, the
ground covered in straw and most of the fishermen were thin,
weak and in rags. Repatriated fishermen began to arrive home
and told of their plight.
Something had to be done quickly if they were to survive
as prisoners of war. Relief funds were set up by the local
newspapers; and the Mayor of Boston; he Prince of Wales
also set up a fund in his own name for the families of the
Parcels were to be sent to each of the 88 Boston fishermen, and by July 1915 a third
consignment was on its way. Herrings, salmon, biscuits, loaves, tea, tinned milk,
tinned meat, oxo cubes, mustard and pepper being in this 3rd consignment of 86 boxes.
Three deaths had occurred since the first set of 88 boxes, with 87 in the second.
Harry Marsden had died on 17 June 1915 of pleuriy and bronchial pneumonia. He was
52 and had been on the trawler “Skirbeck”. George Christian, chief engineer on the
“Indian” and Capt J. Baker skipper of “Skirbeck” had also died in July. Forty eight
year old Capt Baker had been in good health at the time of his capture, but entered
hospital on 23 March suffering with kidney problems. Four months in hospital showed
that the men had suffered greatly from starvation and other privations through the
Sustained support by the people of Boston enabled a steady supply of parcels and
by January 1917 over 10 tons of food had been sent and over £1000 raised. The Fund
continued to the end of the war. The Loggerheads Hotel in Boston was used for storage
and packing, and over 13,000 parcels had been sent. Two voluntary workers were presented
with watches by the directors of the Boston Deep Sea Fishing Company in appreciation
for their work for the benefit of the interned fishermen.
Sadly, 1914 did not see the end of the loss of trawlers – on June 5th, 1915 the “Arctic”
was shelled by a submarine and 4 of her 9-man crew were killed. Fortunately the 5
survivors were picked up by another trawler, the “Jurassic” and arrived back in Boston.
In October of that year the “Fijian” failed to return, probably hit by a mine.
The main dangers to the fishing fleets were enemy surface ships, mines and submarines.
Apart from twenty five of the twenty six trawlers lost in 1914, the Germans only
sunk another 9 during the war. By September 1914 the Admiralty had amassed over
250 Navy and requisitioned ships to patrol the North Sea. After war broke out it
was feared the fishing industry would be paralysed, with fears of widespread unemployment.
But so many trawlers from Yarmouth, Lowestoft and up to Grimsby and Boston, were
taken over for minesweeping that those left for fishing prospered, though it was
not easy to find full crews because, under Admiralty restrictions, they could only
be manned by British born sailors.
Back in Germany most of the fishermen were interned at Sennelager, and in a newspaper
interview to the Lincolnshire Standard on his homecoming in January 1918, Charles
Walkerley said “ “We were there 15 months, living like a lot of pigs. But things
have changed now. Instead of them feeding us out of the swill tubs, as they threatened
to, you can see the Germans going round the camp now every day taking bread and fat,
and anything they can get hold of, out of our swill tubs, and putting it in their
All of the fishermen had been moved to Ruhleben (Spandau) camp by the end of 1917,
including Charles himself, though some crews had already been taken there in late
1914. Ruhleben was a racecourse two miles west of Berlin. It was purely for civilians
and held 4000 men from all walks of life, many who had been rounded up in the autumn
of 1914. It was seriously overcrowded, even after more huts were erected.
To be continued....
At the very beginning of the First World War German raiders attacked
British trawlers in the North Sea.
In mid-August 1914 several Lincolnshire trawlers had set out into the
North Sea and were due to be fishing for about a fortnight. The first sign
in Boston that all was not well came as they did not return as scheduled.
By the end of August, the first month of the war, 26 trawlers had gone
missing, the majority from Boston and Grimsby, and by September 3rd
no word had yet been received as to their fate, causing much distress
among the families of the fishermen.
More trawlers went missing throughout the war and into the 1920s. The
later ones most likely falling victim to mines. Many crews were taken
prisoner and interned for almost the whole of the war, others were killed
or lost at sea.
One of those men interned was Charles Walkerley.
This is his, and their, story.
While the majority of the prisoners in the civilian internment camps at
Sennelager and Ruhleben were British nationals who came from all
classes of life - upper class wealthy individuals, businessmen & travellers
who happened to be visiting Germany, merchant seamen in German ports,
and many others who were living in Germany and were not only fluent German speakers,
but also steeped in German culture - the trawlermen were victims of blatant German
aggression on the high seas.
With such a diverse prison population, the British social class system soon became
the norm. Position, education, wealth and opportunity meant that some had money,
but the working class men fared worse.