Christmas 1914 – no truce in the maritime conflict

Julius Charles Wedderkopp in uniform.
Julius Charles Wedderkopp in uniform.

While much is made of the sporadic and often poorly documented instances of unofficial cessation of fighting on the Western Front in Belgium and France in late December 1914, the war at sea continued unabated as hidden danger could be lurking beneath the waves all along the coastline of Britain.

Ships sailing from the Tyne on Christmas Day and Boxing Day in 1914 would meet an unwitnessed and devastating end off the coast of North Yorkshire.

Mines laid by the SMS Kolberg, part of the German surface ship raiding party which had caused major damage and loss of life in Hartlepool, Whitby and Scarborough in mid-December 1914, would take a heavy toll on merchant vessels for years to come.

The loss of the ss Therese Heymann and ss Glenmorven brought grief to many families on Tyneside, around the country and abroad.

Both ships sailed from the Tyne but never reached their destinations.

In an age of only visual communication for small merchant vessels, the non-arrival in the port at which they were expected would be the first intimation that something had gone awry.

These two vessels were bound for ports in Italy and with an expected voyage of more than 14 days it was some time before any concerns were raised.

In due course both would be declared lost without trace.

The Tynemouth Roll of Honour records two men from the Therese Heymann

as lost – both were of foreign origins but residing in North Shields when ashore.

A Kesseli, a sailor of the Tyne Sailors Home on the New Quay / Borough Road, was from Switzerland and J Peterson, bosun, of Clive Street hailed from Sweden.

The project has little other information about them.

On Boxing Day the Glenmorven left for Leghorn on the tip of the Italian peninsular but got no further than off the coast of Yorkshire.

Her crew of 25 including five unnamed ‘Arab firemen’ (probably members of the newly arrived Yemeni immigrant population of South Shields), also included from Cardiff (the master), Middlesbrough – two men, Stroud, Lerwick, Alnwick and Hull, plus nine from South Shields and two from North Shields.

One of these last two, Julius Charles Wedderkopp, of Linskill Street, had been born in about 1870 in Copenhagen, Denmark.

Pictures provided by his granddaughter show the loss involved with five children orphaned and a widowed mother left to care for a young family.

Information provided suggests that the Wedderkopp family were subject to harassment in view of their ‘German sounding’ surname.

Many families were able to ‘anglicise’ their names but this did not happen in the case of Julius Wedderkopp before he lost his life serving in the British Merchant fleet.

The CD Far from Home containing renditions of well-known and newer music and verse associated with the hardships, endurance and fortitude of the ordinary soldier; and reflecting some of Tommy Atkins’ irreverent humour and sarcasm, is still available.

The compilation was arranged and performed by Jed Grimes, a nationally well-known folk singer and artist.

The CD and commemorative book The Response can be obtained from Keel Row Bookshop and online from our website

The regular talks at the Low Lights Tavern, Brewhouse Bank, Fish Quay, North Shields, will resume at 7.30pm on Tuesday, January 13, when regular speaker Ian McArdle will present a talk entitled Sarajevo – 1914. No tickets are needed for this event.

Anyone with information about anyone killed or died as a result of the war is asked to contact the project.

The project workroom at Room B9, Linskill Community Centre, Trevor Terrace, North Shields, is open from 10am to 4pm each weekday for visitors and for anyone interested to learn more about the project or how to get involved. The workroom will re-open on Monday, January 5.

The address for correspondence is c/o Essell, 29 Howard Street, North Shields NE30 1AR.