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  World War 1 at Sea - In Memory of



Seaman, British Merchant Navy, lost with SS Mersario 1 October 1917


with thanks to Aled Williams

William Jones  




He was called up in February 1916 and sailed on the following voyages before his death:


26/2/1916 – 13/7/1916 "SS Antigone" (123694) Cardiff – Montevideo, Rosario, Almeria – Liverpool


26/7/1916 – 17/10/1916 "SS Antigone" Liverpool – Archangel, Cherbourg – Newport


9/11/1916 – 7/4/1917 "SS Antar" (123682) Hull – Carthagena, Rosario – Barry

William survived one encounter with a U-boat. In December 1916, the SS Antar was off the Portuguese coast when a U-boat surfaced, intending to search and, presumably, destroy the ship. The Antar managed to escape using her gun. (Antar, 3,580grt, armed; 8 December 1916 in Atlantic off coast of Portugal - chased by German U-boat, saved by own gunfire - H)

15/4/1917 – 10/9/1917 "SS Mersario" (121350) Barry – Port Said, Karachi, Naples, Huelva, Garston – Barry


16/9/1917 – 1/10/1917 "SS Mersario" Barry – SUNK

Gordon Smith asked Aled Williams if he could throw any light on Mr Jones being "called up" into the Merchant Navy, as he assumed that only applied to the Army in World War 1. His reply follows:

There seems to have been some element of choice. William’s father (also William) had been a Captain of sailing vessels for many years, sailing the Kilmeny and the Killoran, among others, mainly to San Francisco and the Chilean ports. He had retired around 1907. Apparently, he encouraged his son to join the Merchant Navy when the call-up came, presumably because the U-boat threat was quite small during late 1915/early 1916, as the Germans abided by maritime law at this stage. I’m sure that Captain Jones would have kept abreast of what was happening, and would have thought that the merchant navy might have been a fairly safe place to be, certainly in comparison with the trenches.


However, how it came about, I don’t know. Whether Captain Jones saw conscription coming and got his son to join the merchant navy just before it came in, or whether he managed to convince the authorities that, as the son of a Captain, William would be of more use to the navy, I haven’t a clue. Anyway, when William was killed, Captain Jones apparently blamed himself for having encouraged his son to join the merchant service and he never fully got over it. He died in 1923. The irony is that Captain Jones, himself the son of a Master Mariner, knew how hard life could be at sea and had great hopes that William, his eldest son, would follow a different career.






MERSARIO, collier, built 1906, 3,847grt, owned by Reid SS Co (T H Griffiths & Co (Depots), Cardiff), armed, sailing Barry for Italy with coal & coke; 1 October 1917 in Atlantic off NW Morocco - torpedoed without warning by German submarine U.39, sunk 86 miles W by N of Cape Spartel (L - 80 miles W of); 3 lives lost. (Original information from HMSO, plus L - Lloyds Loss List, te - Tennant's "British Merchant Ship Losses")

The Mersario was a turret ship built by Doxford’s in 1906. She was registered in Glasgow. She sailed from Barry on 16 September 1917, under Admiralty orders, carrying coal and coke to Alexandria, according to the report into her loss. At around 11:15am on 1st October she was off the Moroccan coast (at 35.40N, 7.38W, to be precise) zig-zagging Eastwards at around 8 knots.


She was struck by single torpedo on the starboard side "about cross bunkers". One seaman, Mohammed Hagar (aged 20) was killed by the force of the explosion. The ship went down in under three minutes, according to the report, turning turtle as she went. She took with her Ernest Albert Blythe, 18, from Newport (Monmouthshire) and William Timothy Gwynne Jones, 22, from Pennant in Cardiganshire (my grandfather’s brother). U-39 surfaced and hauled the third engineer (R Chadwick from Wrexham) on board for questioning.


The crew of the submarine were described as young and clean shaven but dirty-looking and spoke very good English. After confirming the name of the vessel, her cargo and the destination (which he didn’t know), the 3rd engineer was put on some wreckage and was subsequently picked up by the rest of the crew in one of the Mersario’s lifeboats. They were in the lifeboat overnight and were picked up early the following morning by the French steamer "La Somme" which took them to Gibraltar. The crew then made their way back to Britain as when space was available on other vessels. One, and I can’t work out who, seems to have been killed on his return voyage on the Manchuria when she was struck by a torpedo on 17th October.

MANCHURIA, merchant ship, built 1905, 2,997grt, owned by Metcalf, Simpson & Co, West Hartlepool, armed, sailing La Goulette for Hartlepool with iron ore; 17 October 1917 in Atlantic off NW France - torpedoed without warning by German submarine U.53, sunk 60 miles NW of Ushant; 26 lives lost, including master (previously attacked 15/08/17- H/L/te)


The commander of U-39 was Walter Forstmann, who wrote his memoirs after the war "Auf Jagd im Mittelmeer" – "Hunting in the Mediterranean". In the book is a copy of a memo sent by Berlin:

411000 tonnes sunk by ‘U39’


Official Report


Berlin, 16 October


New U-boat successes: ‘U39’ under the excellent command of Lieutenant Commander Forstmann during the war years, has, among other successes in the Straits of Gibraltar, sunk five valuable steamers with over 20000 Gross Reg. Tons, which were the steamers ‘Normanton’ (3862 tonnes), ‘Mersario’ (3847 tonnes), ‘Almora’ (4385 tonnes), ‘Nuceria’ (4702 tonnes) and the Japanese steamer ‘Sitosan Maru’ (3555 tonnes). The ships, which were destroyed within two days, carried a total load of 31500 tonnes of coal, of which more than 26000 tonnes were meant for Italy for use in the Winter.


The Chief of the Admiral staff of the Navy


As an aside, the Captain of the Mersario, Elias Lloyd, had also been the captain of the SS Stathe in 1916 when she was lost in different circumstances. Then, with German submarine commanders abiding with maritime law, his ship had received a warning,

STATHE, ex-TREGENNA, collier, built 1892, 2,623grt, owned by Ferrier & Rees Ltd, Cardiff, sailing Penarth for Leghorn with coal; 26 September 1916 in western Mediterranean - captured by German submarine U.35, sunk by gunfire 50 miles E by S of Barcelona, NE Spain (L/te - in 41.25N 03.20E) - H/L/te










United Kingdom




Mercantile Marine

Unit Text:

S.S, "Mersario" (Glasgow)



Date of Death:


Additional information:

Son of William and Mary Jones, of Penlon Pennant, Aberath, Aberystwyth.

Casualty Type:

Commonwealth War Dead





Photograph & Original research by Aled Williams of Cardiff, Wales his great nephew

Further notes by Gordon Smith


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revised  31/7/11