Remembrance day rolls around again, and each year we pull closer to all those centenaries. That said, the war was always a background presence in our family due to my great grandfather and his son, my granduncle, both being killed. Another granduncle survived the Somme, but apparently never fully recovered from the experience.
Again, I have no time for the pomp that seems to increasingly surround this day, so I remember those unfortunates who lost their lives or whose lives were changed forever, by all wars, on all sides. Specifically today at a more personal level I will remember by granduncle Richard Francis Coakley.
His entry in the Mercantile Marine memorial book reads:
"Fireman and Trimmer Richard Francis Coakley. S.S. Antonio (London). Drowned as a result of an attack by an enemy submarine, or killed by a mine, 7th March 1917. Age 18."
The S.S. Antonio was on her way from Barry to Cherbourg with a cargo of hay for the army horses in France. It was 7 miles out of Dartmouth when it was sunk by a mine laid by German U-Boat UC-17. The ship went down with all hands. This was at the beginning of the great U-Boat offensive that carried on throughout 1917.
He has no grave, so his name is inscribed on the Merchant Marine Memorial at Tower Hill in London. Apart from that, all we have left is his posthumous Service Medal below.
The U-Boat UC-17 was commanded by Kapitänleutnant Ralph Wenninger (picture below) in 1917, and was part of the Flandern Flotilla. It was one of the most successful U-Boats of WW1, sinking a total of 96 ships. UC-17 and her crew survived the war, and surrendered on 26th November 1918. She was Broken up in Preston the following year.
Ralph Wenninger then commanded another U-Boat in 1918, and survived with just a handful of his crew when their boat (UB 55) was sunk by a mine in Dover. He was awarded the Pour le Mérite (the Blue Max) just before the sinking. He stayed in the German Navy after the war, and then joined the Luftwaffe in 1935. He was killed in Italy on 13th March 1945. Another grave and another loss to a family.
The epitaph on the Merchant Seaman's Memorial sums up all that needs to be said:TO THE GLORY OF GOD AND TO THE HONOUR OF
TWELVE THOUSAND OF THE MERCHANT NAVY AND FISHING FLEETS
WHO HAVE NO GRAVE BUT THE SEA