The Doomed Voyage

Nearly one hundred years ago in late 1915, war-time London was cold and gloomy in mid-December. It was one week before Christmas when the SS Persia sounded her horn and pulled away from the dock to sail down the Thames on her way to India, half a world away in the steamy tropics.

On board was a diverse mix of military (mainly officers) going out to postings in far flung parts of the British Empire, wives and children going out to India to be reunited with their fathers administering the Empire, there were Belgian nuns heading out to India, a team of YMCA staff heading to Egypt, missionaries, an American diplomat, business executives, the entourage of a maharajah, an Indian gentlemen having just had his case heard at the Privy Council, civil engineers, doctors, nurses, the headmistress of a Bombay school and a miscellany of other professions. The group that was under-represented was tourists for the run had become dangerous and wartime was not a time for the frivolity of viewing the pyramids or going tiger hunting in up-country India.   

SS Persia was on the 'Empire Run' for 15 years that traveled between London and Bombay. In that time she had clocked up over 70 return voyages. 

She departed from London, from the docks at Tilbury, on the 18th December 1915 under the command of Commodore W.H.S. Hall R.N.R. Her first stop was Gibraltar, followed by Marseilles, where she spent Christmas. Leaving Marseilles on the 26th December she sailed on to Malta and then headed across the broad expanse of the Eastern Mediterranean heading towards the entrance to the Suez Canal at Port Said.

Beyond the Suez Canal she was to stop at Port Said, Aden and Karachi. The ship was carrying 184 passengers and 3,166 tons (by measure not weight) of general cargo - 549 tons of cement, 100 tons of railway ‘chairs’, 39 tons of iron bars and paint, 750 tons of provisions, draperies and fine goods, books and medicines, 160 tons of baggage and 1,577 tons of mails. 

However the canal was not to be traversed ever again by the SS Persia for she was torpedoed without warning by the German submarine U38, 115km (71 miles) south east by south from Cape Martello, Crete. The port boiler blew up five minutes after the attack and she sank rapidly, taking with her 334 of the 501 persons aboard. 





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