Charles Victor Harris

Date of birth: Q1 (Jan – Feb) 1899
Place of birth: Southampton
Service No.: Not known
Rank: Fireman and Trimmer
Service: Mercantile Marine
Vessel: SS Galway Castle (London)
Died: 12th September 1918 aged 19 years
Death location: At sea


Life before the war
Charles Victor Harris was born in 1899 in Southampton to parents Mary Jane (nee Bagg) and James George Harris.  His mother was born in 1870 in Southampton and his father was born in 1864 in Poole, Dorset.  They married in 1889 and had 7 children including Charles.

Charles siblings – 4 brothers and 2 sisters – were:

Rosina Jane born 1889 in Southampton.  Married Bert James Osborne 23rd May 1915.  Died in 1969.

James G born 1891 in Southampton.  Died in 1907.

Bertie E born 1897 in Southampton.  Died Sept 1918.

Fredrick born 1903 in Southampton.  Date of death unknown.

Reginald born 1905 in Southampton.  Date of death unknown.

Florence born 1908.  Date of death unknown.

In the 1901 census the family were living at 44 Princes Street in Southampton.  Charles’ father James was a seaman.  Although the exact date is unknown it appears James died sometime between 1907 and 1911.

The 1911 census shows that Charles was an inmate at the Seaman Boy’s Orphanage in Tremona Court at the age of 12.  His mother and the rest of his siblings were living at 133 Radcliffe Road.  It’s unknown why Charles was the only one of his siblings to go to the orphanage but it’s possible he went there to receive education and training to set him up later in adult life.

His mother Mary died in 1939 in Southampton.


SS Galway Castle

War Service
Charles  was a fireman and trimmer on board the SS Galway (London).  A fireman and trimmer’s role was to tend to the boilers of the ship and carry the coal from the bunkers to the engine room.  They also had to ensure that the trim of the ship wasn’t altered unevenly as the coal was taken.  The coal bunkers ran the length of the ship and on both sides so if all the coal was taken from one place the ship would become unbalanced.  They worked in hot, cramped, dark and dangerous conditions so injuries would be common.

The Galway Castle was a steamship built by Harland & Wolff in 1911 which had a short but exciting life.   On the 3rd August 1916 she was attacked by a German bomber near the Gull lightship off the Kent coast but the bomb, although scoring a direct hit, failed to explode.  In October 1917 she also went aground on the Orient Bank at East London but was able to be refloated five days later without damage.

On the 10th September 1918 she set sail from Plymouth en route to South Africa with 204 crew members, 346 civilians and 400 South African walking wounded on board.  She sailed in a convoy of sixteen steamers, escorted by two cruisers and some destroyers.  Progress was slow however due to the strong winds and rough sea at the time.  The convoy dispersed a day later leaving just the RMS Ebro to escort her as the ships bound for the Mediterranean went south and the Galway Castle continued westward.

S.S Galway Castle sinkingOn Thursday 12th September 1918 at 7.30am, approximately 200 miles south-west of Lands End, the ship was struck by a torpedo from German submarine U-82.  It was hit lowdown on the port side and broke the ships back making her sink down in the middle.  Fearing the ship would break in half and sink at any moment, the passengers were immediately ordered to evacuate.  The rough seas made the task extremely difficult though and with the added problem of floating wreckage causing damage to the life boats, many passengers ended up in the water.

The ship’s escort RMS Ebro had sent a request out for assistance and soon after destroyers came and rescued survivors from the rough sea.  The Captain and several members of the crew, who had remained on board the ship working the boats, were picked up several hours after the explosion took place.  The ship remained afloat and a tug was later sent to tow her back to Plymouth.  She sank three days later on the 15th September.

A newspaper article reporting on the torpedo attack can be read here: Torpedoed – the Galway Castle

Charles was one of 143 people who lost their lives that day.  It’s likely he would have been killed instantly when the torpedo struck.  He is remembered with honour at the Tower Hill Memorial in London.

The Tower Hill Memorial commemorates men and women of the Merchant Navy and Fishing Fleets who died in both World Wars with “no grave but the sea”.


Researcher: Louise Link
Published: 9th January 2016
Updated: Insert dates here

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