Destination Gallipoli (Part 2)

phot0846On 31st July 1915 His Majesty’s Transport ship The Royal Edward was seen off the coast of Cornwall after her rounding of Lands End. She was headed for Gallipoli with her cargo of soldiers, medical troops, nine of whom came from Kettering, and a civilian crew made up of some 220 mercantile mariners in the employ of Canadian Northern Steamships: the owners of this beautiful luxurious ocean going liner. With one came the other to fight on behalf of all that was pink on a world map: the British Empire. She had originally formed part of a massive fleet of Canadian ships that had sailed the Atlantic in a heavily protected flotilla to serve King and all where sun never set. They called it ‘The Great European War 1914 – 1st Canadian Expeditionary Force’. Coincidentally, on the same day 100 years ago as the ship was last seen in British waters, my father, Digby ‘Dick’ Hugh Oliff, was being born in a little Essex village. For the most part the journey was uneventful though vigilance for a ‘hidden’ enemy remained high. Everyone went about their duties, making good use of every inch of space that the ship had to offer, some even writing postcards home commenting on their distant views of the African coast and their anticipation at arriving in such exotic places as Malta or Alexandria. Most had never been overseas which served to heighten feelings of excitement mixed with trepidation in equal measure. Below decks the Canadian mercantile officers ensured that their firemen (stokers) of all nationalities stoked the fires with coal that drove the 11,117 tone ship ahead at captain’s speed. The ship made it all the way to the warmer waters of the Mediterranean and on to the Aegean when, on the morning of Friday 13th August her fate, and that of everyone on board, would be sealed forever. She’d reached a location of latitude 36 degrees 31 n, longitude 26 degrees 51 e, off Nisyros Island.


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