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Sinking of Hartlepool Tug 'Stranton'/HMS Char

North Eastern Railway boat sunk and all hands drowned

From: 16 January 1915

Civil Parish: Hartlepool

On 16 January 1915, off the coast of Deal, Kent, former North Eastern Railway steam tug Stranton, now under the name of HMS Char, went to the assistance of the Frivan, a Belgian vessel which was in distress.

HMS Char was standing off to inspect the Frivan when a large sea drove her across Frivan’s bows, holing and quickly sinking her, with the loss of all hands.

Stranton, built for the North Eastern Railway in 1899 and based at West Hartlepool, had previous history of receiving damage when assisting vessels in need. On 8 May 1913, Stranton went to the aid of a Swedish barque, Meda, which had broken free from her mooring ropes at Hartlepool docks and grounded, where it looked like she would surely be wrecked. Whilst the Meda was drifting, the North Eastern Railway crew of the Stranton made many attempts to throw lines to the helpless crew. Then, the two propellers of the Stranton struck an unknown obstacle, almost entirely stripping them and making Stranton just as useless as Meda, and she began to drift too, the would-be rescuer now in need of rescue herself. Hartlepool’s Royal National Lifeboat Institute lifeboat arrived on scene and took off the crew of both the Meda and the Stranton, however not without difficulty. A second visit had to be made to the ‘Stranton’ before the men could be induced to leave and then they only did so on the advice of Captain Standing, Assistant Dock Master, who accompanied the Lifeboat. Captain J Whales, of the Stranton, elected to remain on board and did so despite the danger.

Eventually the Stranton drifted up Middleton Beach and when thetide receded was left clear out of the water, the severe damage to her propellers becoming apparent. The Stranton was floated soon after and towed to Newcastle where she was repaired and re-entered service at West Hartlepool.

The tug was hired by the Admiralty on 17 November 1914, the entire eight man crew volunteering to join the Royal Navy and continuing to serve with the her, all of them perishing when she sank following the collision with the Frivan, along with nine further Royal Navy men. The North Eastern Railway men drowned were:

E. Booth, fireman (formerly deck hand)
W. Booth, artificer (formerly engineer)
R. Fergus, petty officer (formerly mate)
M. Hastings, able seaman (formerly deck hand)
W. Hatch, fireman (same role as in North Eastern Railway service)
J. E. Hunter, fireman (same role as in North Eastern Railway service)
G. Nossiter, artificer (formerly second engineer)
J. P. Whale, lieutenant (captain in command of HMS Char, formerly

The loss of the tug and her entire peacetime North Eastern Railway crew understandably came as a blow to the company, especially to those at Hartlepool following the deaths of men and destruction caused owing to the German fleet exactly a month previously.

Source – ‘The North Eastern Railway in the First World War’, Fonthill Media 2013

Contributed by roblangham, Seaham Harbour