With Warwickshire having two locations that claim to be the centre of England, the old cross at Meriden and the former Midland Oak at Lillington, it is probably pretty safe to say that it is about as far from the sea as you can get.
While this means that before the First World War a majority of its inhabitants would never see the sea, (mind you this was true for most counties before the coming of the railways and the introduction of paid holidays), it is sometimes surprising just how many people in the county did have some sort of maritime connection. It is probably also fair to say that some of those who did venture out to sea wished they had never left landlocked Warwickshire.
This is probably how the wife of the former chief editor of the Warwick Advertiser, Mr Frank Ireland, felt after her voyage on the White Star liner SS Suevic.
The Suevic runs aground
On the night of 17th March 1907 the Suevic was on the final leg of her voyage from Australia when she ran into heavy fog off Land’s End and ran aground on the Stag Rock off The Lizard.
The Warwick Advertiser of 6th April carries details taken from a letter Mrs Ireland sent to her friends telling of her experience following the accident.
She tells them that as the Suevic was due to dock 2am1, she and her daughter Kathleen retired to bed at 8:30pm. However, due to various friends coming to say good bye etc. they did not get to sleep until 10pm. This was only half an hour before the ship hit the rocks and they were put into the ship’s lifeboats.
Her daughter was sound asleep and Mrs Ireland said it seemed a shame to wake her. However, despite shaking so much she could hardly get out of her top bunk, she did so after a steward told them to put on their warmest clothing and make their way to the ship’s dining room. Once there the ladies and children were told to report to the library where they were given hot coffee and fitted with lifebelts. They were then “marched” to the ship’s lifeboats.
Narrowly missed being smashed on the rocks
Mrs Ireland’s letter seems to suggest that she and Kathleen were put into a lifeboat but it was lowered only part way down the side of the ship. This was because of the two boats lowered in to the sea before them; one narrowly missed being smashed on the rocks.
They spent most of the night in the lifeboat from just after midnight until 06:10 when they were taken back on to the Suevic. Mrs Ireland says that, despite the stewards’ handing out blankets and hot coffee, the cold was awful and by the time she was put back on the ship she was so cold she couldn’t walk. However, as far as Mrs Ireland was concerned their ordeal was not yet over.
1 One report I have read says that her port of call was Plymouth, where her first class passengers were due to disembark before she sailed on to Southampton. While another report says she was inbound for Liverpool. Personally, taking the distances involved into consideration, the Plymouth option seems the most plausible, even though I think of Plymouth as more of a Naval port as opposed to a passenger terminal.