Updated: Jul 18, 2019
On this day - July 31st - the Transcona Museum remembers Seaman David Linklater on the 100th anniversary of his death in the First World War. This is his story...Lest We Forget.
Seaman 8953A S.S. "Belgian Prince", Royal Naval Reserve
Date of Death: 31/07/1917
David Linklater was born on 24 June 1890 at Stromness, Orkney Islands, Scotland. He was the son of Mr. James and Mrs. Margaret Linklater. He had an elder brother who was also in the Royal Naval Reserve.
He was first employed in Transcona as a Carpenter by Messrs Haney, Quinlan, & Robertson; their firm held the contract for the construction of the Railway Shops. He was later employed by Mr. Robert Esselmont on the construction of residences in the Town of Transcona. He resided in Transcona prior to his enlistment in the armed service and left shortly after the outbreak of the First World War in 1914. He was a member of Knox Presbyterian Church in Transcona.
We currently have very little military service information regarding Seaman David Linklater. What we do know is that he volunteered to bear the King’s uniform in battle and enlisted shortly after the outbreak of the First World War in 1914. He served with the Royal Naval Reserve, first aboard a minesweeper in the English Channel, then transferred to a merchantman crossing the Atlantic Ocean, and finally transferred aboard the ill-fated British Steamer the S.S. Belgian Prince where he served as a Gunner.
S.S. Belgian Prince
On the evening of 31 July 1917, the Belgian Prince was attacked by torpedo by German U-boat 55 while en route to Virginia. The ship was approx. 175 miles from Tory Island, NW Ireland. Captain Harry Hassan was taken prisoner by U-55 and held below deck. The other 42 crew members were lined up on the submarine's casing. Perhaps believing incorrectly that a British warship was in the vicinity, the submarine moved off and submerged, washing the survivors into the sea. Their life-jackets and outer clothing had been previously taken from them and tossed overboard; their lifeboats had been smashed with axes. U-55 later fired two shots from her deck gun and the Belgian Prince sank stern-first about 7:00 AM on 1 August 1917.
In total 39 lives were lost, 38 drowned and Captain Hassan who was taken as a prisoner of war was never seen again. Of the 42 crew members, there were three survivors were:
Chief Engineer Thomas A. Bowman
Able Seaman George Silessi
Second Cook William Snell
All three men were rescued by a British patrol vessel eleven hours after the sinking. The experience of the crew was described by one of the three men who miraculously survived the encounter:
"We were more than 200 miles from land when I saw the wake of a torpedo some little distance from the vessel, and almost before I had time to give the alarm we were struck amidships, and a violent explosion followed. Captain Hassan acted promptly and coolly, and we were all ordered to the boats, the captain being the last to leave the vessel. The boats were ordered to row to the submarine and when we reached it we were lined up along the deck, 43 of us, with the exception of the captain who was taken below.
We all had life belts. We were ordered to throw them on the deck of the submarine. The German sailors then deliberately kicked the lifebelts into the sea…. They entered our boats and threw overboard the oars, balers, rations, etc, and smashed the boats with axes…. The Germans descended into their vessel and a few minutes later I heard the rush of water into the submarine as she started to make her way. After we had proceeded about two miles…the submarine began to submerge.
Some of the poor fellows went down with the submarine, and others were left floundering in the water, their awful predicament and subsequent death being almost too shocking to describe.”
David Linklater would not survive the attack of the S.S. Belgian Prince. He was 27 years old at the time of his death. His name is commemorated at Portsmouth Naval Memorial (Hampshire, United Kingdom); Grave Reference Number 27.
In recognition of his supreme sacrifice and service to King and Country, David Linklater’s name was memorialized on the Cenotaph now located in Memorial Park Circle. It also appears on the Knox Presbyterian Church Honour Roll hanging the Transcona Museum and on a Honour Roll hanging in Transcona Memorial United Church.
To learn more about the S.S. Belgian Prince, read this article by the Sailors' Society in honour of the 100th anniversary.
"LINKLATER, DAVID". Commonwealth War Graves Commission. Accessed 25 July 2017.
Knox Presbyterian Church "Roll of Honor"
"Linklater, David". The National Archives. Accessed 25 July 2017.
"Our Honor Roll." Transcona Times (Transcona, MB), 31 March 1916.
"Roll of Honor." Transcona Times (Transcona, MB), 7 April 1916.
“Stripped of Life Belts, Left on Deck of Sub To Drown When Submarine Submerges.” Transcona Times (Transcona, MB), 28 September 1917.
Transcona Memorial United Church "Roll of Honour"
Transcona Museum Archives