We recently added 157,000 Merchant Navy records to Lives of the First World War.
In wartime, Britain depended on civilian cargo ships to import food and raw materials, as well as transport soldiers overseas, and keep them supplied. The title ‘Merchant Navy’ was granted by King George V after the First World War to recognise the contribution made by merchant sailors.
Here is one of the new fascinating stories on Lives of the First World War.
Charles was born in Southampton in 1872 to Mary and Charles Fryatt. Following in the footsteps of his father and older brother, Charles became a mariner after leaving school.
In 1896, Charles married Ethel Townend and together they had six daughters and a son. The family lived in Dovercourt, Essex.
Actions in the First World War
Charles Fryatt captained the merchant steamship SS Brussels. In March 1915, German submarines made two attempts to sink Charles’ ship – on the second occasion, Charles attempted to ram the U Boat and forced it to crash dive. He was awarded two gold watches for protecting his ship.
Charles continued to sail across the North Sea on a regular basis for another fifteen months until, on 23 June 1916, SS Brussels was cornered by a flotilla of German torpedo boats and escorted into the harbour at Zeebrugge. For his actions in attacking the U Boat the year before, Charles was tried by a Court Martial held in Bruges. He was found guilty of engaging in fighting, which civilians were forbidden to do. Charles was executed by firing squad on 27 July 1916.
- Charles’ Legacy
Charles’ story attracted a great deal of publicity and a war of words broke out between Britain and Germany. His execution provoked a public outcry in Britain where it was argued that he had only been acting in self-defence.
Charles was initially buried just outside Bruges, but in 1919 his body was returned to Britain and a funeral held at St Paul’s Cathedral. He is buried in All Saints Churchyard, Dovercourt.
Do you have a connection to someone who served in the Merchant Navy? Find, Remember and Share their story on Lives of the First World War