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I am searching for the passenger list of the final voyage of the SS Galway Castle. The ship left Plymouth on 10 Sep 1918 bound for South Africa, and was torpedoed by the Germans two days later near the entrance to the English Channel. About 143 passengers and crew died.

I have been unable to locate the passenger manifest on any of the usual sources such as the UK Outward Passenger Lists on Ancestry.com and FindMyPast. I suspect that the record, if it exists, may be archived separately because the ship sank. Some of the casualties appear on the Commonwealth War Graves Commission but I am also interested to locate details about survivors, hence the desire to see the passenger list.

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  • A family friend, Pte Ted Cook for NZ and in South African Scottish, was on SS Galway Castle. When the ship sunk he rescued a 2 year old SA girl called Elsie Nursey. Her mother drowned. Apparently she was not on a passenger list and her father in SA did not know her fate. Elsie lived with my great grandparents until her father was found and he came over to collect her. – Kate Lutey Jul 22 '17 at 16:15
  • @KateLutey I found a 2yo girl named Miss E. D. Nursey on the passenger list with an adult woman identified as Mrs. Nursey. – shoover Apr 30 at 5:58
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The passenger list for the final voyage of the SS Galway Castle is available at Ancestry courtesy of the National Archives (UK).

The twist is that the passenger list is under a different ship's name, the "Rhodesia." However, the following items on the passenger list all correspond to those of the Galway Castle on her final voyage:

  • Official Number (ship's registry number) 132616
  • steamship line Union-Castle
  • ship's master W. B. Dyer
  • tonnage 7988
  • departure Plymouth
  • destination South Africa
  • passenger count 346, including
    • passenger Hon. H. Burton (minister of the Crown)
    • passenger 2-year-old Miss E. D. Nursey
    • passenger Dr. R. A. Buntine, age 49, traveling with teenagers Miss J. Buntine and Miss N. Buntine

SS Galway Castle is said to have departed on 10 September 1918 under the command of captain W. B. Dyer with 346 passengers, ~200 crew members, and ~400 soldiers returning home to South Africa.

The date of departure of the "Rhodesia" is given as 9 September 1918. It is impossible for ship 132616 and master W. B. Dyer to have departed on both 9 September and 10 September, so this must be the same voyage.

Also note that Union-Castle Line did not have a ship named "Rhodesia" in 1918.

Here is the top of the first page of the relevant passenger list at https://www.ancestrylibrary.com/imageviewer/collections/2997/images/40610_B000888-00238 . Note ship name "Rhodesia" and Official Number 132616:

Rhodesia pax list 9 Sept 1918

Here is the fifth page of the passenger list showing Hon. H. Burton, KC etc.:

Hon. H. Burton

Here is a snippet of the passenger list showing 2-year-old Miss E. D. Nursey, mentioned in a comment:

Miss E. D. Nursey

Here is a snippet showing Dr. R. A. Buntine and two teenage girls who are presumably the daughters mentioned:

Dr. R. A. Buntine and girls

Here is the final page of the passenger list showing the passenger count of 346:

pax count 346

For comparison of ship's numbers, here is the top of the first page of the passenger list showing the Galway Castle, Official Number 132616, tonnage 7988, Master W. B. Dyer, sailing from London to South Africa on 29 August 1917:

Galway Castle 29 Aug 1917

Here is a letter explaining sailing under a different ship's name, a "camouflage name." This letter is about a different ship, the Agra sailing under the name "Merkara," but the concept is the same. This ship sailed a week or so before the Galway Castle, but the letter is dated a week or so after the Galway Castle was sunk. It's possible that had the Galway Castle not been sunk, a similar letter may have been written for it.

camouflage name

There is plenty more about the Galway Castle at second.wiki, which may be a translation of the German Wikipedia page for Galway Castle. The English page for Galway Castle is about the castle in Ireland; there is no page in English Wikipedia about the ship.

Also here: http://www.bandcstaffregister.com/page38.html and here: https://forgottenwrecks.maritimearchaeologytrust.org/wrecks-and-sites/explore-the-wrecks/articles/ss-galway-castle

There was a book called The Union-Castle and the War written shortly after the war, with good information about the role Union-Castle's ships played during the war.

Ancestry source:

Ancestry.com. UK and Ireland, Outward Passenger Lists, 1890-1960 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2012. Original data:Board of Trade: Commercial and Statistical Department and successors: Outwards Passenger Lists. BT27. Records of the Commercial, Companies, Labour, Railways and Statistics Departments. Records of the Board of Trade and of successor and related bodies. The National Archives, Kew, Richmond, Surrey, England.

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  • Fantastic find! This is the first I've heard of a camouflage name for a ship. – Harry V. Apr 30 at 6:21
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In cases like this, I often search for the ship itself and mine those websites and newspaper accounts for clues about where records might be found. Newspapers of the day may not have accurate information in the early accounts, but they can be helpful in establishing a timeline of events.

The website The Red Duster has an entry for the SS Galway Castle in its information about the UNION-CASTLE MAIL STEAMSHIP CO (page 16). In addition to valuable information for an event timeline, the entry says:

At the time she was carrying 400 South African walking wounded, 346 passengers and 204 crew members.

and

Destroyers were summoned by radio to rescue survivors who were taken back to Plymouth where it was ascertained that 143 persons had perished.

The site St Helen's Rolls of Honour has a list of casualties which can be compared to other casualty lists.

Forgotten Wrecks of the First World War says:

The survivors, including the Captain and those crew members who had stayed aboard the SS Galway Castle and others rescued by HMS Spitfire and Oriana were returned to their point of departure at Plymouth.

Records suggest that at least 143, and perhaps more than 150, lives were lost.

Unfortunately none of these sites have clear source citations on their pages.

Don't restrict yourself to the British Newspaper Archive when doing newspaper research. This article from The Sydney Morning Herald, accessed from Trove, reports:

The Galway Castle had 1000 people aboard. The majority of the passengers consisted of women and children, who travelled third class. Of the latter 100 perished. A message from Capetown says the Union Castle Company state that there were 744 passengers on the Galway Castle, including 309 invalided South African troops and a crew of 207. The civilian passengers missing number 114, and 34 of the crew are missing.

and

Mr. H. S. Burton, the South African Union Minister of Finance, who was aboard, is reported to be safe. He has had an adventurous experience. He went to England by the Kenilworth Castle to attend the Imperial Conference, and the ship was seriously damaged in a collision with a destroyer, there being considerable loss of life. The missing include Major R. A. Buntine, a member of the Union Parliament. Major Buntine's elder daughter is missing. The younger one was saved.

The section of the article further down the page, headed SURVIVOR'S EXPERIENCE, has descriptions of the events from the survivors.

Searching other newspapers of that time period might turn a published list of casualties and survivors. Books written about the event might also have clues to where a passenger list might be in their lists of sources used.

Plymouth-area newspapers or local history books might mention which hospitals treated the survivors.

Another approach would be to search for any surviving records of the Union-Castle Mail Steamship Company.

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My grandmother and mother aged 3 were aboard The Galway Castle when it was torpedoed and were two of the fortunate survivors. I have just unearthed two cuttings one from (I think) a Bath Local paper "Bath victms on torpedoed liner" and the other from the Telegraph "The Galway Castle - List of saved and missing" - Both are in a poor state and are the columns only

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