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BOSCAWEN

BOSCAWEN
SHIP NAME: BOSCAWEN
LOCATION: -5.43, 52.72

The steamship BOSCAWEN was sunk by UB 92 when 23 miles from Bardsey Island on 21 August 1918 while travelling from Birkenhead to Barry. One life was lost.

SS BOSCAWEN was a Cardiff-owned, defensively-armed collier (carrying coal). She was built by Craig, Taylor & Co. Ltd in Stockton-on-Tees in 1909. BOSCAWEN weighed 1,936 tons and measured 279 x 40.8 feet.

BOSCAWEN was travelling from Birkenhead to Barry ‘in ballast’ on the 21 August 1918 when she was torpedoed by UB 92, 23 miles from Bardsey Island. The crew survived except for a single casualty – a Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve gunner named Oliver Jones from Pontardawe, who was drowned when the Boscawen sunk.

Oliver Jones, Pontardawe, bard and singer, drowned on the BOSCAWEN, 1918
Oliver Jones drowned - Herald of Monmouthshire Recorder 31 August 1918

‘Oliver Jones – bard and singer’

Oliver Jones, aged 28, a gunner in the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve, was the son of Morgan and Sarah Jane Jones of 42 Grove Road, Pontardawe. Before the war he had worked in the Bryn tinplate works along with his father, Morgan, and brother, Thomas Gunstone. The whole family were Welsh speakers. A contemporary newspaper report of his death states that Oliver was a locally well-known bard and singer, who had won the prize for penillion singing (singing verses with a harp accompanist) at Treboeth Eisteddfod while he had been on leave just three weeks earlier, when he also became engaged to be married.

The chaired bard ‘Gwilym Cynlais’ (William Terry) wrote a eulogy for Oliver which was published in the newspaper Llais Llafur on 31 August 1918, and included the following lines:

Glas yw dy Gymru’r fynud hon,
Glas yw dy fedd yn erw’r don,
Difynor, diflodyn yw mynwent mor,
Cwsg Oliver, cwsg—mae’th goffa gan lor!

This translates roughly as:

So green is your Wales right now,
So green is your grave in the depths of the waves,
Wreathless is the sea’s grave,
Sleep Oliver, sleep – you are remembered by the Lord.

Oliver Jones had written and posted a final poem to Gwilym Cynlais a few days before he was drowned, entitled: ‘At Fardd Porth y Wawr’ (to the poet at Porth y Wawr). To read this, and to find out more about Oliver Jones’s successes at eisteddfodau, see this item on People’s Collection Wales.

BOSCAWEN – Welsh crew

As a Cardiff-owned ship operating out of Welsh ports, it is not surprising there were at least a dozen Welsh crew members on board the BOSCAWEN.

Three crew lists from 1915 tell us that the master during that time was John Edwards, the mate was William Watkins, an able seaman was D Lewis Daniels, all from Aberystwyth, and the cook was John Edwards from Carmarthen.

 

Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve on armed merchant ships

Royal Naval Volunteers Reservists served on merchant ships to operate the deck guns which had been fitted later in the war to defend against attacks by U-boats. It can be assumed that a U-boat would target the guns on board and therefore the gunner would be particularly vulnerable. RNVRs were given more pay for working on Defensively Armed Merchants Ships (DAMS).

As well as Oliver Jones, three other men from Pontardawe serving in the RNVR died in the First World War:

  • George Jones, tinplate shearer, died when his ship the SS ARTIST travelling from Newport carrying coal was sunk by U 55 in 1917. He was a gunner.
  • Howell Egbert Lewis, labourer, died when his ship the SS NARRAGANSETT was sunk by U 44 in 1917. He was a gunner.
  • David Jenkins, steelworker, died when his ship SS MINORCA was sunk by U 64 in 1917.

All four are commemorated on the Plymouth Naval Memorial and all. except Oliver, on the W Gilbertsons & Co. memorial in Pontardawe Public Hall & Institute.

Thirty-four Welsh tinplate workers are listed as having served in the RNVR during the First World War.

Sources:

'BOSCAWEN.' UBoat.net. Web.

'Drowned.' Herald of Wales and Monmouthshire Recorder. 31 Aug. 1918. Welsh Newspapers Online. Web.

'The Gilbertson Works, Pontardawe.' Cyngor Abertawe Swansea Council. Web.

The National Archives, Kew. ADM–Records of the Admiralty, Naval Forces, Royal Marines, Coastguard, and related bodies. ADM 337/88 - Z3333. 'Jones, Oliver.' n.p.