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Q: SS Northumbria casualties, 1919, graves in Embleton, Northumberland. ( Answered 5 out of 5 stars,   4 Comments )
Subject: SS Northumbria casualties, 1919, graves in Embleton, Northumberland.
Category: Miscellaneous
Asked by: nevilley-ga
List Price: $30.00
Posted: 01 Sep 2004 23:49 PDT
Expires: 01 Oct 2004 23:49 PDT
Question ID: 395910
I would like to know the story behind some war graves from 1919 in the
village cemetery in Embleton, Northumberland. The dead were from the
SS Northumbria.

For a full answer I'd like to know what the ship was, what her mission
was, why they are war graves even though the war was over there, and
what the circumstances were which led to the deaths. If there are
things I can read/visit/etc connected with the ship, or extant
remains, I would love to know this too.

To get started: go to

In the search box at the right, change the search type from Casualty
to Cemeteries. Put Spitalford as the cemetery name and click search -
it only returns one record, Embleton Spitalford, so click that. This
takes you to the Cemetery Details and from there you click Cemetery
Reports for a listing of casualties. The people from the SS
Northumbria are: Blyth, Inouye, McDonald, McKinnon, McLennon - all the
people with 9th January 1919 as the date of death.


Clarification of Question by nevilley-ga on 01 Sep 2004 23:50 PDT
Sorry, "over there" should have been "over then".

Request for Question Clarification by scriptor-ga on 02 Sep 2004 05:24 PDT
Dear nevilley,

I have not been able to find any detailed account on the fate of the
SS Northumbria. All I could provide is the reason why those persons
were buried in war graves although WWI had been over for two months
when the ship sunk. Apart from that, I could not trace any information
available online.

In-depth research on what kind of ship the SS Northumbria was, what
her mission was, and where exactly she sank can, as it seems, only be
obtained by consulting old British ship records and registers, none of
which are available online.


Clarification of Question by nevilley-ga on 02 Sep 2004 05:53 PDT
Thanks, scriptor, for that. 

I am not quite sure where that leaves me - I think I'd be prepared to
pay something, but not the whole fee, for a comment on the timing, but
I was very much hoping for more about the ship and its fate.

I am not very experienced at using this service so you'll have to
fogive me and/or offer guidance as appropriate, but I was wondering if
it was OK if I leave it a while longer in case anyone else wants a
try, and then if nothing else is forthcoming, come back to you and try
to offer (how??) a different fee for the information which you do

How does that sound??
Subject: Re: SS Northumbria casualties, 1919, graves in Embleton, Northumberland.
Answered By: pafalafa-ga on 02 Sep 2004 07:22 PDT
Rated:5 out of 5 stars
Hello nevilley-ga,

The SS Northumbria was indeed a casualty of war, as she was sunk by a
mine.  The steamer suffered a double tragedy, actually, as there were
a number of survivors of the initial sinking who were lost when the
lifeboats they were in were swamped and sunk.

Here are some excerpts from two newspaper articles, both dated January 10, 1919:

Oxnard (CA) Courier

British Steamship Lost Thru Mine

LONDON, Jan. 10 -- The British steamship Northumbria, 4215 tons, from
Baltimore, was sunk by a mine at Middlesborough today.  There were
some survivors, but eight persons are known to have lost their


Fort Wayne (PA) News And Sentinel

British Vessel Hits Mine;
Sinks And Few Survive

The British steamer Northumbria struck a mine off Middlesborough
Thursday, and it is believed that most of the crew was lost.  A boat
with two survivors and eight dead has been washed ashore at Newton
Abbott.  Four boats which left the ship with survivors are missing,
and it is believed that the boats were swamped while attempting to
make shore.

The steamship Northumbria was of 4215 tons and was owned in Glasgow. 
She was 360 feet long and was built in 1916...


The Northumbria was sailing from the US port city of Baltimore.  There
is no indication this was a military mission, and in I think it likely
it may have been a routine commercial transport.

By the way, there is a brief mention of the tragedy on the web at:

Hebridean days of sorrow - four or more lives lost, First World War 
9th January 1919 ? SS Northumbria was sunk by a mine with 4 islanders
lost (3 Barra/1 South Uist).

I hope this is the information you need to satisfy your curiousity
about the graves you asked about.  Before rating this answer, please
let me know if anything here is not clear, or if you need any
additional information.



seearch strategy:  Searched Google and various newspaper archives for
articles on "Northumbria" in the date range 1918-1919.

Request for Answer Clarification by nevilley-ga on 02 Sep 2004 07:43 PDT
That's a great answer, thank you very much indeed. 

I am determined to rate it highly anyway but the only thing I'd like
to clarify is the question of the graves being _war_ graves - is it
that because it was a wartime mine, and hence the deaths were caused,
albeit in a delayed form, by enemy action?  Or did the merchant marine
somehow qualify for war graves treatment anyway, having (perhaps?)
been compelled/required/encouraged to serve for war purposes anyway?
On the same tack I note that one of the dead (C R Blyth) was not a
merchant mariner, but a Royal Marine - does this contradict your
"non-military mission" idea, or is it simply that he was a passenger
on the Northumbria?

just for interest, it's not really a further query - the geography is
interesting. Middlesbrough is some way south of Embleton (100 miles or
more I think) and there must have been war cemeteries, I would have
thought, closer to Middlesbrough than that. So if the accounts are
accurate, perhaps the ship proceeded some distance after being
damaged, or a lifeboat was sailed or drifted, to get these
unfortunates to a place where Embleton was a sensible place to bury
them. Also, Newton Abbot is *wildly* implausible as a placed for the
boat to come ashore - it's hundreds of miles away, in South Devon. I'd
bet good money that the Abbot is wrong and was put in by an
enthusiastic subeditor: Newton by the Sea, on the other hand, is
*very* *very* close to Embleton and I'd bet that's what was meant.

Anyway, thanks, and I'll look forward to reading whatever you want to
say about the war bit.



Clarification of Answer by pafalafa-ga on 02 Sep 2004 11:38 PDT
Hello again,

Thanks for the feedback, and for the kind words.  You sound as if you
have a good researcher's focus yourself -- it's interesting to hear
your thoughts about the geographical plausibility of the events of
January 9, 1919.

As for additional information...

In the U.S., there are hundreds of newspapers that can be searched
online, and that provide a tremendous resources for researchers
looking into modern history as it was actually reported at the time. 
Several US newspapers carried the story of the sinking of the

I've long been frustrated by the absence of similar search
capabilities at UK newspapers.  I'm not sure why this is the case, but
there is no convenient way I've found to broadly search UK newspapers
for articles that are older than one or two decades.  The few papers
that offer such services only carry a smattering of articles.  I have
not found any online archives for UK papers that cover stories from

I'm sure the story of the Northumbria was covered in much more detail
in the UK than in the US.  Perhaps a librarian there could assist you
in uncovering some original articles, now that you know the
circumstances of the sinking.

That said, I did search the online archives for the "Stars and
Stripes" newspaper (printed by the Yanks for US Army soldiers).  While
there is no report of the sinking of the Northumbria, there are quite
a number of articles in the January 1919 timeframe that make it clear
that many steamships of many nationalities were being used as troop
transport vessels to bring soldiers back to their countries of origin.
 Possibly, the Northumbria was not on a commercial trip, but was
serving as one of these vessels -- which would explain the military
association of its "mission" -- but this is mere conjecture on my

There is one more source I want to check, which is currently off-line.
 As soon as it's back in service, I'll run a search, and let you know
what (if anything) turns up.


nevilley-ga rated this answer:5 out of 5 stars and gave an additional tip of: $5.00
Really great answer, thanks very much, and also for the additional
ideas added afterwards, suggestions etc. I am very pleased to have
learned so much about these graves.

Subject: Re: SS Northumbria casualties, 1919, graves in Embleton, Northumberland.
From: pafalafa-ga on 02 Sep 2004 17:45 PDT

Thank you SO was really a pleasure working for you on this
most interesting question.

I did finally gain access to the database I mentioned, which gave me
access to a few more historical newspaper archives, but alas, nothing
new on the Northumbria.

Hope we'll see you back here at GA one of these days (and good luck on
the Wings of Desire question...nothing showed up for me!..but isn't
that a great movie?)

Subject: Re: SS Northumbria casualties, 1919, graves in Embleton, Northumberland.
From: nevilley-ga on 02 Sep 2004 23:41 PDT
Fine: you're welcome, thanks for checking the other database, and
thank you very much for those closing comments. It's been a pleasure
to work with you.

And yes, it's a wonderful movie!  :)

Subject: Re: SS Northumbria casualties, 1919, graves in Embleton, Northumberland.
From: webrarian_uk-ga on 04 Sep 2004 10:40 PDT
From The [London] Times, Saturday, Jan 11, 1919; pg. 5; Issue 41995; col A:

"The steamer Northumbria, of London, Baltimore for Sunderland, struck
two mines in the North Sea off Middlesbrough early on Thursday
morning, and sank.

The crew got clear away in the boat before the vessel went down, but
were driven north by a strong wind. In the evening signals of distress
were observed, and were responded to by the Newton Life-Saving
Apparatus Brigade, who proceeded to the coast to render assistance.
Nothing, however, could be traced, but on their return to Newton beach
a ship's lifeboat was found washed up with two men alive in it. Twelve
bodies of the crew were later washed ashore on the North
Northumberland coast. The vessel had a crew of between 50 and 60
hands. There were originally 17 men adrift in the lifeboat washed
ashore at Newton, and only two are alive; three of the 17 men,
including the pilot, are missing. Nothing is known of the remainder of
the crew."

More... Saturday, Jan 11, 1919; pg. 13; Issue 41995; col E:

"Lloyd's agent at Berwick telegraphed yesterday as follows: - Steamer
NORTHUMBRIA of London struck two mines after leaving Yarmouth Roads."

More... Tuesday, Jan 14, 1919; pg. 5; Issue 41997; col G:

"The inquest on the bodies of 12 of the crew of the steamer
Northumbria, which sank in the North Sea after striking two mines,
will be held at Newton to-day [sic]. The two survivors, who are now
recovering, state that their boat was the only one to leave the
Northumbria safely, all the others being stove in."

This was not an isolated incident, so soon after the end of the Great
War. There are a number of other articles in January 1919 of similar
occurences. You can gauge how concerned potential travellers must have
been by the comment at the end of this article on Friday, Jan 17,

"We are informed that an experimental Channel service between Dover
and Ostend will begin tomorrow... The charted channel to be followed
has been most carefully swept of mines."

[This comes from The Times Digital Archive. It's searchable online
(once you've paid the subscription, which is usually only affordable
by institutions) and gives you scanned images from microfilm. You
still need to transcribe the articles yourself.]

I think the "driven north by a strong wind" confirms that they were
wrecked off Middlesbrough and then blown way up the coast and found at
Newton-by-the-Sea, not far from Embleton.

Finally, the weather forecast for 9th Jan 1919 in The Times gives this:

"Wind from S.E. to S. or S.W. becoming stronger; squally, mainly overcast"

This seems to support the northward drift of the vessel.

Subject: Re: SS Northumbria casualties, 1919, graves in Embleton, Northumberland.
From: nevilley-ga on 05 Sep 2004 05:06 PDT
Wow - Chris, that's fantastic, thanks very much. I feel quite guilty
having finished this question now - if in London do you want buying a

I am sure you are right about the "driven north" bit and the weather -
this accords well with the whole Middlesbrough -> Newton thing.

I feel as if I have got most of the story now thanks to all the help I
have had from kind and clever people. One day I might put up a little
web page or something about this. I've got photos of the graves: I
suppose a *really* brilliant thing to find would be a picture of the
ship, but I imagine this might well be impossible.

I had wondered whether the SS Northumbria sinking might have been
connected with the lavish quantities of shipwreck remnants - including
a whole boiler, visible on rocks at low tide and seemingly immoveable
- not far away at Howick but clearly this was another vessel, or
indeed others.

Thanks again to everyone


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