HMHS Rohilla
Valid HTML 4.01 Transitional


1914 Oct 31

Wreck of the Hospital Ship “Rohilla” of Glasgow

Owners The British India Steam Navigation Co

The following account comes from a report submitted by the Whitby St. John Ambulance Brigade and reveals how distressing the incident was, especially when one considers that the unit was formed only one month before the loss of the vessel. One can only guess at how difficult it must have been for what were effectively many raw recruits, that they gave what assistance they could under such sad circumstances portrays such splendid courage.

The account which follows is spread over three pages and was given to me by Mrs. Joyce Knagg's, whose father Richard Knagg was instrumental in setting up the Ambulance Brigade. Joyce always had time for the many questions I had surrounding her father's achievements and I was sad to learn she had passed away in June 2009.  I have reproduced the obituary which appeared in the Whitby Gazette for Mr Knagg which also contains a glamorous photograph of Mrs. Joyce Knagg.

Session One

Surgeon T. C. Littler Jones F.R.C.S – R.N.V.R

The services rendered were excellent, the long hours on duty the arduous nature of the task + the weather were all endured cheerfully and the whole turnout was in my opinion absolutely splendid. The country is proud in the way in which The Whitby Ambulance Men did their work during this terrible disaster. Personally I found everything in working order and the men assisted by the detachments from Grosmont and Carlin How stuck to their long and arduous duties as only one would expect.

The Rohilla Hospital Ship (No2) of Glasgow came ashore at 4.30 a.m. on Friday, October 31st, 1914 on or near Saltwick Nab, beneath the East Cliff about one and a half miles from Whitby Piers. About 7 a.m. a ships lifeboat containing 8 men reached the shore, and between 7.30 a.m. and 10 a.m. The Whitby lifeboat rescued about 4, including the women who were on board. About 8.30 a.m. also, a man (Case No. 5) was seen swimming towards the piers, and was rescued by Hon Sgt + Secretary C. H. Hood and Wilfred Harrison, a junior member of the first aid class.

Note – Throughout this report members of the Brigade are styled Brigade Members and those men who were attending lectures in first aid in connection with the Brigade, but who had not yet obtained their certificates are styled “Juniors”. The Brigade members not having obtained uniforms, all wore a Red Cross, and also a St. John Badge in the coat – junior members wearing the cross only as emergency badges.

The Brigade is now in uniform, and has a supply of armlets (St. John) in reserve). All the case above mentioned were conveyed by motor or cab to the nearest houses and provided with warm dry clothes + given hot drinks and food, and all quickly survived, except one Nurse, who was conveyed to Hospital on the Sunday, suffering from pneumonia. At high water, one man was rescued (Case No. 9) having come ashore with a lifebelt on he was rescued by the Coastguard and received treatment by Divisional Surgeon D. G. B. Mitchell after being hauled up the cliffs by ropes.

It was afterwards conveyed by Hon. Sgt & C. H. Hood + Nurse Philips to hospital where he soon recovered. About noon, the Skinningrove Ambulance Company telephoned, offering assistance and this was at once accepted and twelve men, with three stretchers under Dr. Donaldson arrived about 4 p.m. The Whitby Brigade having been on duty from 5 a. m, accepted the offer from Skinningrove to stay all night and were off duty from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. the Skinningrove men remaining in charge Hon. Sgt C. H. Hood. There was no work during the night but signals from the wreck caused the turn out of the Brigade at 2 a. m. At 9 a. m. the “Rohilla” signalled that men were shortly to attempt to swim ashore. The combined Brigades were then got down to the Scaur, and as the men came ashore they were conveyed, after having first had treatment by the Doctors and Brigade members to the Emergency Hospital, or as the tide came in and they were washed further along the coast, direct from the Scaur to Whitby. The Emergency Hospital mentioned was a small stone hut, used in the summer months as a tea house.

It was quite empty of anything in the way of necessities, having been cleared for the winter. The owner quickly opened the place, and coals were carried from Whitby, willing helpers gathered firewood from the wreck, and the Boy Scouts provided a large ‘Billy’. The nearest water was a mile away but fortunately it rained and the result was unlimited coffee, tea + oxo. a large stock of blankets was furnished, and twelve vacuum flasks, and hot stimulants were sent out with the bearer parties. Although the building was only 16ft by 8ft, twelve patients were squeezed in – six laid down and six sitting. Nurses Birch + Philips, with the assistance of Nurse Jefferson, were with the Brigade, and it was so arranged that there was always one and generally two, trained Nurses on duty. (Nurses Birch + Philips are District Nurses, and are attached to the Brigade as Nursing Sisters. Altogether twelve patients were healed, and although some were very serious cases, all recovered. We also received there three bodies, either killed or drowned in coming ashore. All the men after treatment – (which usually meant general treatment for shock and collapse) were settled on hot blankets, and conveyed by stretcher to the cliff top, and were there conveyed by motor to various houses in the town. No. 12 of these men (Case 24) were removed lying on a bed of blankets, and hot water bottles, made up on the floor of the Motor Transport Wagon kindly placed at our disposal by Captain Goodridge, of the 7th Devon’s there stationed at Whitby.

On the same morning, often successful artificial respiration by Drs Sutchell + Donaldson and Sgt W. R. Knaggs two men were brought around and recovered being conveyed to Hospital, where the were, after a few days removed home. Three bodies were also recovered and removed to the mortuary. These cases number to 34 were handled on the Saturday morning at low water between daylight and noon. The Scaur cases being handled by Sgt Knaggs and the Saltwick cases by Hon. Sgt + Sgt C. H. Hood: W. GB Sutchell as Divisional Surgeon being in command. At noon the Skinningrove Ambulance men made arrangements to return home for a rest, and to come again on Sunday morning, by motor, to assist further if necessary and at about three o'clock it was decided to appeal to the Grosmont Division to take the night watch. During the Saturday afternoon, two men came ashore on rafts, after drifting about two miles, and although artificial respiration was persevered with by both Doctors and Brigade members with nurses in attendance, the men both died. During the same period also, one man who came on the Scaur, and was not in our charge, was sent by the Police to Dr. Burton. He collapsed on reaching the house, artificial respiration was carried on by the Doctors and Ambulance Men for five hours when the man, unfortunately died.

This most fascinating report represents a true insight from those on the ground at the time of the Rohilla's loss, use the following links to access the other pages.

Copyright © Colin Brittain 1999 - 2014