When the excuse of war is just inexcusable...
Hubert Francis Burdett Andrews
Hubert Francis Burdett Andrews became a master mariner just like his father. It was still at a time in this peculiar part of Gloucestershire, when sailing the rivers and coastlines of this nation was a part of who you were. A family career; you were a mariner like your father, your grandfather. For this place sits on a peninsula of Gloucestershire that juts out into the river Severn but that also has the Gloucester-Sharpness canal running through it. It was once a hive of river traffic, canal movement, goods carriage. Working people, canal boats, sailing ketches and tall-masted ships looking for a port in a storm.
There seems to be a church in every village of this small network. Saul sits between Fretherne and Upper Framilode. The Church of St James the Great now sits ponderous waiting for its moment to come again. One of the smaller but ancient churches which now look a little sorrowful due to lack of use. It sits in the middle of the village next to the green. The old cottages and period houses surround it; a statement on its past where rich families of the parish patronised wealth on the church.
It is no surprise in a sea-faring area like this to see evidence of their men-folk in the maritime services during World War One. In 1914 the country, the war effort needed the scores of coasters (coastal vessels) to run up, down and around the coastlines dropping and picking up goods like coal. It is what had happened for years. But in many ways, you could say that our success in the war was down to that continual naval support, those sailors who did the haulage work of the nation but without the defence that the armed forces had.
So let us return to our man Hubert. Hubert’s name appears prominently on a gravestone to his maternal aunt and uncle. It was not him name that startled me but the phrasing and choice of words used.
“… who lost his life by hostile submarine.”
Personal memorials are just that. A chance for relatives, loved ones, to memorialise the lost. So these words… the choice of the word ‘hostile’ speaks as to those who designed the memorial.
Twenty-two year old Hubert Andrews was the master on a boat called the SS Sofie, a steam ship crewed by seven other sailors. It was February 1918, the Sofie was heading from Jersey to Cardiff with just ballast on board, sailing along the Bristol Channel when she disappeared. The crew appeared to have been believed drowned, the ship lost but it soon became clear to the reason why the Sofie vanished.
Ten days later, a lifeboat was washed up on Ginst Point, Laugharne on the south-west Welsh coast. The boat contained the body of a man that had been shot multiple times by persons or persons unknown. Identification found in his pocket revealed that he was a Venezuelan Able Seaman aged 39 years. His name was Domingo Mobile. He was one of the crewmen of the SS Sofie.
Along with Domingo, the six other crew members were:
C. Amesti, Fireman, 46 years from Spain
John Bernard Harrington, Mate, 27 years from Cardiff
William George Lippiatt, First Engineer, 56 years from Watchet, Somerset
Devanez Martinez, Second Engineer, 30 years, born in Argentina and living in Newport, Monmouthshire
Peter Soper, Fireman, 35 years born in Venezuela
Ormond Stevens, Able Seaman, 33 years from Guernsey
All the men listed above lost that day in February 1918 are now listed on the Tower Hill Monument in London; a monument for men and women of merchant navy and fishing fleets who have no known grave. That is apart from Domingo Mobile who was buried in Laugharne St Martin Churchyard.
The crew of the SS Sofie were recorded as men presumed dead by enemy submarine. It seemed that a German U-boat had surfaced and opened fire. At some point, Domingo had made it into a lifeboat and been shot repetitively; his body drifting until making land in Wales giving the only clue about the fate of the Sofie.
Hubert Francis Burdett Andrews went down with his ship somewhere in the Bristol Channel. It left his loved ones including his mother Charlotte and his father Thomas, as well as his aunt Annie Ziporah Field and his uncle Hubert Ellis Field.
It perhaps does no wrong to judge the actions of the participants of a war so long past; but part of me feels for those who were left behind struggling to understand why they would never see their boy again, ‘until the day dawn.’