"SS Farfield"

The SS Farfield was a “typical” steam coaster of her day. There were literally hundreds of these little vessels plying their trade around the British coast and near continent, in what must have been the hay-day of steam, from the 1890’s to the early 1950’s. Built by C.D. Homes & Co. Ltd, Hull, and 468 tons gross (192tons net) with a 3cylinder engine. She had an open wheelhouse, Captain and deck Officers accommodation amidships, two hatches, and a tall “Woodbine” funnel, above her crew accommodation and engine room aft.

In the 1930’s the 'Farfield' was used by Coppacks of Connah's Quay to transport cargoes of coal, fruit, bricks, and china clay. The little steamer had also carried mistletoe from Brest for the Christmas markets of Liverpool, where its Dockers nicknamed her the ‘Kissing Boat’.

                    

The onset of war in 1939, changed these little ships and their men considerably, gone were their company colours, of brightly painted housings, masts and funnels, to be replaced by the overall drab grey of war, machine-guns were fitted as well, many of them relics of the Great War, which had ended over twenty years earlier, a pitiful attempt, at defending themselves, hardly a match for the highly trained crews of the German air force and navy. Some of these civilian seamen were given “specialised” training in operating these constantly jamming pop-guns as well, and consequently, many a funnel and mast were riddled by “friendly fire” attacks!!! By 1941 the British merchant fleet, was very much the worse for wear, literally hundreds of ships, and many thousands of men had been lost worldwide, but none, more saw than the coastal fleet, these little vessels were loaners, nearly always unescorted, and with their slow speed, and tall ‘smoky’ funnels making them visible for miles, they were just ‘sitting ducks’ to an ever vigilant and domineering enemy.

In July 1941, little Farfield and her eight-man crew, was on passage up the Irish Sea, with a cargo of anthracite, from Port Talbot, South Wales to Mostyn, Flint, on the river Dee. She passed so many bodies in the water, victims of German action, that John Hughes her Captain, who himself lived in nearby Connah’s Quay, remarked on their arrival, “We were chased by the enemy all the way up Channel”. Most of her crew lived in the Deeside area as well, so a short stay at home was on the cards, and a welcome break from the rigours of war and it's uncertainties. After discharging she sailed in ballast for Penmaenmawr, some 60 miles to the west along the north Wales coast, she was to load stone at the towns quarry jetty on the Saturday afternoon, but they were delayed until Sunday the 12th, because of a local football match. Rather prophetically, at Mostyn, immediately before sailing, one of the crew, Harold Roberts an engine room Fireman, from Ffynongroew, Flintshire, remarked “that he felt all over funny inside” and would have to be excused from sailing on the Farfield that trip.

She completed loading her cargo on the Monday, and duly sailed for Gloucester, up the Bristol Channel on the morning tide. In the early hours of Tuesday the 14th, she was slowly making her way down the Irish Sea, but when only 3½ miles northwest of Bardsey Island, off the Llyn Peninsula, Farfield was attacked by a lone enemy aircraft, one of its bombs hit her after housing, and the ensuing explosion destroyed her two lifeboats. With their ship now a blazing inferno, the crews only option was a single life-raft, which was stowed on No 2 hatch, and after a struggle, this was duly launched off the main deck, just forward of the mangled and burning aft accommodation. But the unidentified aircraft had not yet finished its nefarious night’s work. It returned again and again and repeatedly machine-gunned the survivors in the raft, until all of Farfield’s crew were either killed or drowned. The only one spared was the ships navy gunner, and after clinging to a hatch cover for over twelve long hours, was miraculously rescued by a passing naval patrol boat. He was the only man left, that was able to tell of the last harrowing day of little Farfield’s twenty-year life, and recall the horror of his shipmates, all defenseless civilian seafarers, being massacred in such a cowardly, and utterly deplorable way.

 

(Footnote) How many more of these little ships were attacked in this way? We shall never know. After all, if it wasn’t for one man surviving this terrible atrocity, we wouldn’t have known about this one either. The Farfield’s hulk drifted northeast with the tide, and finally sank the next day on July 15th 1941, five miles southwest of the South Stack lighthouse on Holy Island Anglesey, in 46 metres of water, and is simply marked as (Wk 49) on charts.

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SURVIVOR’S EXPERIENCES

Indignation against the savagery and ruthlessness of the Hun war against British shipping reached its height on Deeside this week, when more facts about the recent dive-bombing and machine-gunning of a raft came to light.

A government patrol boat later rescued a survivor and removed him. The survivor is now enjoying a few days’ leave, and has almost recovered from his terrible experience. The full account of this action, when, allowed to be published, will add another chapter to British heroism at sea.

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Mr. V. J. Bowles, of Mount street, Flint; Harold Bennett, The Bungalows, Chester-road, Flint; Captain John Hughes, Connah’s Quay, and Mr John Hughes, of Pentre, Queensfeery, are missing and believed killed as the result of enemy action.

There was only one survivor, and of the men who died on the raft only one body has so far been recovered, that of the mate, Mr Edwards, a native of Shotton, who went to live in Penzance following his marriage to a Cornish woman.

40 YEARS AT SEA.

Mr. Vincent James Bowles, who was 66, had lived in Flint for 37 years. He was an engineer, and had been a seafarer for 40 years, commencing his career with Messrs. Lamport and Holt, Liverpool. He retired two years before the war, but answered the call for ex-Merchant Navy men to return to the service. He served at sea throughout the last war and received the Merchant Navy medals. He leaves a widow and three sons.

Mr. Harold Bennett, who was 18, is one of several brothers serving at sea, including one in the Royal Navy, and he himself only went to sea last February.

Captain John Hughes is a son of the late Captain Thomas Hughes, Mold-road, Connah’s Quay, and followed the sea all his life. He leaves a widow, one son and one daughter. The Mate, Mr. Edwards belonged to an old Connah’s Quay family.

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Remember Them?

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Capt John Hughes was the grandfather of John Chambers of Connah's Quay and the uncle of Professor Ann Parry, and we would like to thank her for her e-mails, containing Farfield's photographs, newspaper clippings, and all her other help with this tragic story.

And many thanks also to Chris Holden, for all his help - details about "Farfield" spec, and her subsequent wrecking.

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