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S.S. Seang Choon 1891-1917

Journal by janilye

Built 1891 as a first class passenger ship, by Harland & Wolff, in Belfast for the Bibby Line and named the CHESHIRE and later used during the Boer War as a troopship. In 1910, the Cheshire was sold to Lim Chin Tsong, of Rangoon and renamed SEANG CHOON.

In 1915 the Seang Choon became a British army troopship, afterwards a hospital ship and took part in the Dardanelles campaign.

On the 10th July 1917, in Bantry Bay on the South Coast of Ireland, whilst on a voyage from Sydney to London, she was torpedoed and sunk by German submarine U-87.
Nineteen lives were lost.

On the 2 July 1915, two of the galley staff of the Seang Choon were at Fremantle on board the R.M.S. Malwa, passing through on their way to Sydney, where they expected to be called upon to prepare meals for more troops on the way to the front.
In conversation with a representative of the West Australian newspaper they told some of their experiences as non-combatants in the present struggle in Turkey.
This is their story:-

"To me the whole thing seemed magical. A huge transformation scene, or a tremendous drama, staged on the land and sea, with terrible guns roaring out realistic effects, and real wounded men, who went out in khaki, and returned in scarlet tunics, red with living blood! It was too realistic to be a dream, and yet too terrible to be true." Thus a cook off the transport Seang Choon, which had been engaged in performing emergency hospital work at the Dardanelles, described his reminiscences of a period of five weeks near Gallipoli.

"We went away from peaceful Australia early in the year with the 13th Battalion from Queensland, and after a calm, peaceful voyage. through the tropics by way of Torres Straits, Thursday Island, Colombo, and Aden, we found ourselves hurled into a whirlpool of struggling humanity; the opposing forces eager for each other's blood, and determined at all costs to wipe the other out, or be annihilated in the at tempt. And yet, amid all the pathos of strong men groaning in pain or falling dead in front of one, there was no lack of smiling faces, and those who seemed to be in most pain appeared to be filled with unlimited cheerfulness, and a desire for more fighting and more blood.

At times we laughed aloud and at other moments our eyes welled up with tears. Strong men cried to see the awfulness of man's inhumanity to man, and laughed when the practical joker told some story of the battlefield, that tasted of humour.
With shells falling in uncomfortable proximity to the ship, aeroplanes dropping bombs from above, and modern warships hurling tons of steel and lead into the lines and villages of the enemy, one was conscious of a paleness clouding one's face and of a desire for removal to a place of greater safety. We were anchored off the coast where the Australians landed, about two miles out. In front, on either side, were H.M.S. Triumph and H.M.S. Majestic. We had on board about 1,000 men of the 14th Battalion, and they were to be landed on the morning of April 26. On the previous evening, however, we commenced to take on board dozens of very seriously wounded men, who had been shot down during the first day's operations. The wounded were brought alongside in lighters and lifted on board on stretchers, hoisted by cranes. The next morning our reinforcements transhipped on to torpedo boats, and were taken close to the coast, where they were cast adhrift in smaller boats, and left to get on dry land as best they could.

The whole scene was bristling with incident. One fine young fellow, when saying good bye to me, said that it would be no South African picnic, but a glorious homecoming. He had been all through the South African campaign, and held the rank of quarter master-sergeant. That was at 4 a.m., and at 6.30 he was brought back by the torpedo boat, shot through the heart, without having landed.
On the night the wounded began to come aboard, all hands were kept busy preparing food and beef tea, which we handed down to the men in the lighters.

A strong north-easterly gale made the transference of the wounded a very difficult feat, and some time was required to successfully accomplish it. Most of the men suffered from shrapnel wounds, and those who fell dead were the victims of snipers. When day broke on the 26th we could see the operations on land quite distinctly, and it was a treat to see our fellows get into the fray. So heavy were the casualties and the loss of officers that our men simply took individual action, and each rushed ahead with a gleaming bayonet, regardless of his own safety or of united action. They simply saw red. Some of them got two miles inland before they looked round and found out that they were cut off from ammunition and reserves, and while a lot of them went down many ultimately regained the lines.

The Turks had been so well entrenched that they took some shifting but we have heard that the casualties were not so heavy as was anticipated in official circles.
On board our ship were a large number of army medical men, who did their best to relieve the pain and make the men comfortable until they arrived at Alexandria, which was 48 hours run from the scene of the fighting. We made three trips with wounded, and carried about 2000 men all told to the various hospitals. On each return trip we brought reinforcments, and there was a continual stream of ships doing similar business to ourselves.

There were numerous instances of bravery and courageous acts to be witnessed on all hands. One Australian chaplain declined to remain in safety, and rushed into the trenches, where they were captured, and there rendered first aid to our men. On one occasion he was trying to bring two wounded men, one on each of his arms, behind the lines when both were killed, although he himself was unharmed.

We heard of cases of Turkish treachery, but we saw none that we could vouch for. We can, however, testify to the consideration our Jack Tars showed toward the religion of the enemy.
The 'Majestic' and 'Triumph' were both engaged shelling two villages, and by the time they had thrown in about 300 rounds there was little left but the minarets, which were sacredly avoided and spaired destruction.

The Turkish papers made great capital out of an official declaration that the Turks had driven the Australians into the sea a statement, no doubt, which gained credence by reason of the Australians partaking of sea bathing along the shore.
Our fellows were really devils let loose, and they seemed to have no fear. Once into the firing line those chaps threw off their packs and went right into the enemy, and more than often got off scot free.

We had many experienoes on board. On one occasion an enemy aeroplane hovered over us and dropped three bombs, all fortunately finding a resting place on the sea floor. A gun from the Triumph, however, soon brought the aircraft down, and put it completely out of action. On another occasion a huge, shell, thought to have come from the Goeben, dropped into the sea about ten yards astern of our ship. and I can tell you we were all glad when we upanchored and made off for Alexandria. It was, as things turned out, a very fortunate thing that we left when we did, as some two hours after we sailed, the Triumph was torpedoed, and a little later the Majestic suffered a similar fate.

On one of our trips to Egypt we took 60 Turkish prisoners, including one officer, and a German and a Syrian officer. We did learn that there were to have been 260 Turks, but somehow or other only 60 survived to make the journey with us. Some of them could speak a little English and they told us that the Turkish soldier was not at all fond of the fighting business, and very often officers had to jump into the trenches and hit some of the men with sticks to prevent them from turning tail. On the same journey we had several Gurkha wounded, and on the first evening at sea one of the Indians crept out of his bunk, and, seizing a knife, stole up behind the bunk of a Turk who was wounded. The latter was only saved from a sudden death through the timely action of an attendant, who had missed his patient. Needless to say, after that the Turks were all removed to quarters further away from the Indians.

A remarkable feature of our work was the entire absence of complaints, for, although the wounded suffered considerable inconvenience through the makeshifts which were provided, all bore their misfortunes with remarkable fortitude. It was pitiable in the extreme to see strong fellows who had left the ship to enter the` firing line, full of hope and ambition, come back absolutely helpless.
One poor, chap was assisted on board our ship by another wounded comrade. The former had lost both eyes and he was endeavouring to undo his belt, when he exclaimed with perfect resignation. 'Good heavens, I've lost all my fingers too.

Another officer came aboard with a terrible gash on his face, and when someone sympathised with him he replied: 'I wish that were all lad, but there are, three more inside.'
It was interesting to hear the officers speak of their men. The affection between them was remarkable and the men came back from the firing line loving them. The young officers acquitted themselves splendidly and with remarkable heroism and bravery. "

NOTES
Seang Choon SS was a 5,708 g.t., 445.5ft x 49.1ft, twin screw passenger ship, speed 14 knots, accommodation for 100-1st class passengers.
The chaplain mentioned, I believe is Father John Fahey 1883-1959
whose letters I will publish at a later date.

source: The West Australian
nsw.bd&m
The Ships List
Australian War Memorial
Transcribed and written by janilye, 2013


The portrait below is of Wireless Operator Angus Bartlett Clarence McGregor, 1894-1917, the son of Aeneas McGregor 1865-1937 and Adelaide Louise, nee Bartlett 1868-1959, who was aboard the Seang Choon and drowned when it was torpedoed.

Surnames: MCGREGOR
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by janilye Profile | Research | Contact | Subscribe | Block this user
on 2013-04-14 21:42:57

janilye - 7th generation, Convict stock. Born in New South Wales now living in Victoria, carrying, with pride 'The Birthstain'.

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