Tragic loss on ill-fated RMS Laurentic

Reprinted from The Packet, 10 October 2017
by Lester Green

RMS Laurentic

Jan. 25, 1917 will be etched in the minds of the people from both Lough Swilly and Southwest Arm region, and will forever connect the two.

The Captain of the RMS Laurentic had taken shelter at Lough Swilly, Co Donegal, Ireland where four sailors who had contracted the spotted fever, a contagious disease, were removed from the ship.

Roll Honour for HMS Laurentic

The former White Line luxury liner was converted to a troop transport ship and was sailing from Liverpool, England to Halifax, Canada when the vessel pulled into port. The ship was carrying passengers and unknown to most onboard, a secret cargo of gold bullion destined to help fund the war efforts in Europe.

According to Don McNeill, County of Donegal, Ireland: “In the gathering of darkness of late afternoon on January 25th, the RMS Laurentic nosed out of Lough Swilly towards the open sea.”  The weather conditions were described as a raging, full blown, North Atlantic, snowstorm. A survivor of the disaster  later recalled: “It was dark and bitterly cold with a black rolling fog….”

The ship struck not one but two mines which had been placed in the inlet by U-80, a German submarine.

The Captain gave the orders to launch the lifeboats and abandon ship. In less than 20 minutes, the liner slipped into its watery grave.

There were 475 passengers that arrived at Lough Swilly but 354 passengers lost their lives that dark, gloomy night.

Among them were 22 sailors from the Royal Naval Reserve that were travelling to Newfoundland on furlough. Two of them – Eldred Gosse from Long Beach and Luke Smith from Gooseberry Cove – were from the Southwest Arm region.

Eldred, born July 6, 1890 to Robert and Sarah Ann (Vey) Gosse of Long Beach, first enlisted in the Royal Naval Reserve on March, 1908, but was found to be medically unfit for the drills.

He returned to the HMS Calpyso during March, 1909, where he completed several more years of training. Before the Great War, records indicate completion of 202 days of training.

Sent overseas on the SS Carthaginian, Nov. 18, 1914, he was assigned to HMSVivid I naval base for the next month. On Dec. 6, he was transferred to HMS Hillary, where he remained for the next year. During January, 1917, he served at the naval base at HMS Pembroke I. Seaman Gosse was granted leave to Newfoundland in late January and eagerly booked a passage on the RMS Laurentic.

Luke Smtih, Gooseberry Cove

Luke, born Aug. 7, 1886, to Joseph and Martha (Spurrell) Smith of Gooseberry Cove, first enlisted with the Royal Naval Reserve on March, 1906.

He spent several years travelling to St. John’s, completing two months of training per year at the HMS Calypso naval facility.

He competed 196 days of training before being ordered by Royal Proclamation to report to the British Admiralty at St. John’s on Aug. 3, 1914. Joining fellow sailor, Seaman Gosse, Luke travelled overseas to HMS Vivid I. His assignment mirrored Seaman Gosse’s. Receiving furlough for the same time period, they boarded the doomed ship on Jan. 24 at Liverpool, England.

Both men were travelling to spend time with their young brides.

Luke was excited about seeing his daughter, Viola May, for the first time.

Later that night came two loud explosions, which caused neither sailor to reach their destination. Two widows were left to mourn the loss of their husbands. Luke’s daughter would never see her father.

The people of Southwest Arm again felt the ripple of death and mourned the loss of their sons. This time lives were lost not in battle, but on the high seas, on a luxury liner, trying to get our boys home.

One hundred years after this disaster, the people from Ireland, United Kingdom, and Canada gathered to remember this Great War tragedy.

The Southwest Arm Historical Society, on behalf of the families, requested that a wreath be placed in honour of Eldred Gosse and Luke Smith. This wreath was laid at the site of the RMS Laurentic by students from Crana Collage, Ireland on Jan. 25, 2017.

(Click on image to enlarge)

Royal Naval Reservists Perished, Western Star, Feb 7, 1917


SS Laurentic, St. John’s Daily News. 1917-02-08