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TODAY is the inaugural National Fishing Remembrance Day, buy many residents of Milford Haven may not know about the tragic events of 1915, when piracy on the high seas by ‘the enemy’ led to the loss of local fishermen and several trawlers.

In 1915, amidst the backdrop of World War I, Milford Haven’s fishing fleet became the target of ruthless ‘pirate attacks’ as they were reported, which claimed the lives of 47 men and saw the sinking of several trawlers.

These were not isolated incidents but part of a terrifying pattern that emerged during this tumultuous period, carried out by German boats, and submarines, against all British shipping.

The first incident was a brutal attack on the Hirseo.

As the ‘pirates’ opened fire, chaos ensued onboard. The trawler, filled with fishermen, was ill-equipped to handle such an assault. Many crew members were killed instantly, while others, injured and desperate, struggled to survive as the vessel began to sink. The nearby Victoria, in a bid to assist, maneuvered closer but was quickly overwhelmed by gunfire and met the same fate as the Hirseo.

Among those who lost their lives was the chief engineer of the Victoria, Albert Cole, whose earlier premonitions of doom became a grim reality as the ship went down. His final acts, attempting to keep the engine room operational even as the vessel succumbed to the sea, highlighted the bravery and professionalism that defined these men.

Haverfordwest and Milford Haven Telegraph, 1915
WW1: The steam trawler Fuschia’s crew was captured by a U-boat

Simultaneously, the Belgian trawler Delta B also came under attack. The Delta B, which was fishing in proximity to the British trawlers, was besieged by the same group of pirates. It suffered extensive damage and eventually sank, adding to the day’s toll of devastation. The crew, mostly Belgian nationals, faced a fierce battle for survival as they encountered relentless gunfire and the perilous waters of the Irish Sea.

Survivors from these attacks were few and faced grim odds. Those who were rescued recounted their experiences with palpable grief and trauma. They described scenes of fellow crewmen being struck by bullets, the cold embrace of the sea as they leapt overboard, and the slim hopes of rescue amidst the vast, unforgiving waters.

Danger at sea: German sailors were described as ‘pirates’ by the British press

The response from Milford Haven to these tragic events was swift and heartfelt. The community rallied to support the grieving families, providing financial aid and organising memorial services. The impact of the losses was felt deeply throughout the community, uniting them in their sorrow and their resolve to prevent future tragedies.

The incidents involving other trawlers, like the Ebor, further underscored the widespread nature of the piracy threat at the time. The Ebor, targeted shortly after the initial attacks, managed to survive the encounter but not without enduring its own harrowing tale of gunfire and evasion.

In the aftermath, additional stories emerged of other nationalities involved, such as Russians, Spaniards, and Norwegians, each sharing their own harrowing escape stories. One poignant testimony came from a Spanish survivor, who detailed his traumatic ordeal in broken English, reflecting not only his personal suffering but also the shared human experience of facing death at sea.

Today, as we reflect on these tragic events, our community not only commemorates those who were lost but also looks to learn from the past. The horrors of the 1915 pirate attacks have instilled a collective resolve to enhance safety and security for all maritime workers, ensuring that such a tragedy is never repeated.

This National Fishing Remembrance Day, let us remember the bravery and sacrifice of those who went before us, and let their legacy guide our efforts towards a safer and more secure future for the fishing community of Milford Haven and beyond.

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