"Sergeant, do you think there's any hope for us?"
During international conflicts, hospital ships are a necessary way to treat and transport injured soldiers. Because the soldiers aboard hospital ships are no longer able to fight, and the ships are staffed by non-combatant doctors and nurses, the international community agrees that the ships should be protected from attack. While the rules state that hospital ships can be boarded and inspected by enemy naval crews to make sure they are indeed hospital ships, they are not to be the targets of military attack.
However, on June 27th, 1918, a well-lit Canadian hospital ship, named LLANDOVERY CASTLE, marked with a large red cross, was returning from Halifax to England when it was torpedoed by a German U-boat. The torpedo knocked out the ship’s lights and wireless (so no SOS distress call could be sent out) and destroyed the engine room. The ship’s Captain, R.A. Sylvester, was left without a choice but to order the ship be abandoned.
Of 164 crew members, 80 army Medical Corps members and 14 nursing sisters who survived the initial torpedo blast were able to escape into lifeboats during the ten minutes it took for the ship to sink. However, the wreckage created a vortex which eventually drowned the occupants of all but three to five of the lifeboats. Witness to these frightening events, Sergeant Arthur Knight said the following of his final moments with Matron Margaret Marjory Fraser:
“To save the (life) boat we tried to keep ourselves away by using the oars, and soon every one was broken. Finally the ropes became loose at the top and we drifted away, carried towards the stern, when suddenly the Poop Deck broke away and sunk. The suction drew us quickly into the vacuum. There was not a cry for help or any outward evidence of fear. In the entire time I overheard only one remark when Matron Fraser, turned to me and asked: "Sergeant, do you think there is any hope for us?" I replied, 'No,'. The last I saw of the nursing sisters was as they were thrown over the side of the boat. It was doubtful if any of them came to the surface again. I myself sank and came up three times, finally clinging to a piece of wreckage and being eventually picked up by the captain's boat.”