[Skip to content]



Person Details
Yorkshire
Parents: William and Ellen Bircumshaw of Barlow, Chesterfield. Widow, Elizabeth, nee Hall married 1910. Lived at 3 Milton Street, Mansfield.
30 Dec 1917
38
475911 - CWGC Website
289228
Sapper
96th Coy Royal Engineers
Sapper William Bircumshaw, served with the 96th Light Railway Operating Company, Royal Engineers, he was killed in the torpedoing of H.M.T. Aragon off Alexandria on 30th December 1917. His death was confirmed on 12th February 1918, he is buried in Alexandria (Hadra) War Memorial Cemetery Row F Grave 83 On arrival at Alexandria on December 30th, 1917, the Aragon was initially permitted to enter harbour, but was subsequently ordered out again. She anchored outside without any protection from submarine attack, for which she was an easy target and was duly torpedoed and sunk with a total loss of 610 officers and men of the Commonwealth forces, of whom 19 were crew. She sank quite quickly and trawlers and destroyers at once closed in to pick up those who had succeeded in jumping clear. The destroyer HMS Attack was one of those engaged in the rescue but was itself literally blown in two by a mine and disappeared with 10 of her crew and many of those she had just taken on board. The German submarine responsible was UC 34 under the command of Oberleutnant zur See Horst Obermüller. UC 34, a mine laying submarine, was scuttled on the 30th October 1918 at Pola on the surrender of Austro-Hungary
Lieutenant Harold Ostick Hinchliffe, Royal Engineers, probably a member of the 96th Light Railway Operating Company, survived the torpedoing of H.M.T. Aragon off Alexandria on 30th December 1917. He left the following account of his experiences in an article published in the Birmingham Daily Mail 31st January 1918.. “We had a good sail after leaving the last port, where I posed some letters to you, but when we were in sight of Egypt we were torpedoed and the boat went down in under quarter of an hour. “I think I told you that we had boat drill every morning, and a false alarm nearly every day. We always had our revolvers with us, and everyone wore a lifebelt all the time we were sailing. When we were struck I happened to be standing at my boat station. I was looking at the land in the distance, and heard the explosion, and felt it, too. Then the “fall in” sounded, and my men came up splendidly, formed up in their places, and stood at ease. I had all my boat party on parade on four minutes. My men stood on deck against a deck house, and in front of us there were eight nurses and two unattached field officers. “I helped these girls into their boat, and although there were only 14 persons in it, and it held 33, my boys never offered to get in, although the boat was heeling over and sinking fast. Our side, being the side struck, dipped badly. The nurses were all lowered safely, and pushed off, poor beggars, but they acted splendid. I didn't know whether to put some of my men in that boat or not, but my orders were that the boat from the upper deck was mine, and I had to wait until that was lowered into the water, then send my men down the rope ladder. My boat was never lowered. “So I waited, and, mind you, all this time the boat was heeling over and sinking fast. I kept talking to my boys, urging them to keep their heads, etc., also I examined all lifebelts. Those boys stood steady until she heeled over so far that they all fell over on to me, holding me up against the railings. Just at that instant the colonel in charge of my deck gave the order, “Abandon the ship.” I called out, “Everyone save himself and jump,” and struggled up to the top of the railings, caught hold of a rope that was used for lowering the boat the nurses had had, and slid down. I remember wondering whether the water would be cold, and also in the same second prayed, “God, do help me.” “When I got into the water I struck out with my arms and feet to get away from the ship. I was just opposite the funnel, and it was heeling over on to me all the time. I shipped a lot of water and all my equipment weighed me down. I was fortunate enough to get hold of an oar in the water, and that helped me. Then I threw my revolver and ammunition away, also a pair of binoculars I had in my pocket, and that helped me. Some one on a piece of wreckage held out a hand to me, and I think that hand saved me; it gave me a moment's rest. Just then I got hold of a piece of wreckage, and was then fairly safe, as I had an oar under my right arm, and a piece of timber under my left. Supported like that, I was fascinated to see the huge steamer stand absolutely perpendicularly out of the water, and then shoot down out of sight. “After a time I was pulled into one of the boats that had transferred all its nurses into a trawler that had come up. Well, two of them happened to be near to me. “When I was in this boat, I saw one of the things which has made the Germans hated, a thing absolutely disgusting in the way of kicking a fellow when he is down, and this action accounted for a huge number of lives, but I cannot tell you more about that now. “The boat pulled up to the trawler, and when the sea lifted the small boat up I sprang with my arms over the trawler's side, and four nurses pulled me over. If these girls had not helped me I should have fallen back into the water. I lay on deck, and they pumped the water out of me and gave me some brandy. I soon felt all right. “When we got to land our boys put into lorries and driven to this camp, and all they asked for was a smoke. The Y.M.C.A. Gave me three tins of cigarettes, and they were so pleased with them. There were remarkable scenes on the quayside; I even got some kisses from the nurses. All the girls were saved, but the losses among our boys were appalling, and when so many have gone under I marvel that I am saved. It nearly broke my heart when we called the roll the next morning. The colonel congratulated me on the conduct of my boat party; they were really wonderful. Above article is courtesy of Jim Grundy and his facebook pages Small Town Great War Hucknall 1914-1918.
Remembered on

Photos

  • Alexandria (Hadra) War Memorial Cemetery -
  • Hired Transport Aragon -