Colin Albert Harragin and Katherine Harragin

COLIN ALBERT HARRAGIN AND KATHERINE HARRAGIN

A husband and wife who died in especially tragic circumstances when the SS Apapa was sunk off Anglesey by torpedoes, and who are commemorated in Holy Trinity churchyard in Hoylake. They had nearly reached Liverpool from West Africa.

SS Apapa from www.rcahmw.gov.uk.jpg

from www.rcahmw.gov.uk under Open Government Licence

We only know of Colin (1880-1917) and Katherine Harragin (1883-1917) because in 2003 volunteers from the Family History Society of Cheshire undertook the task of recording Memorial Inscriptions in many of the churchyards in northern Wirral. In the churchyard at Holy Trinity, Hoylake, they discovered a stone slab buried under the grass with the following inscription.

D 8, 13 HARRAGIN

Sandstone Kerbstones(under turf)

Top Kerb- In loving memory of

Right Kerb-Colin A. HARRAGIN and Katherine his wife torpedoed onboard the S. S. Apapa 28th November 1917

The stone is once more invisible under the grass. It is immediately to the left of the grave of another casualty commemorated on this website, namely Alfred Bayley Chase.

Colin Albert Harragin was born about 1880. The only census on which he has been found shows his place of birth as ‘West Indies’, but on passenger lists he generally gave his place of birth as Ireland. It seems likely he was born in the West Indies to Irish parents. He first enters the on-line records in the summer of 1903 when he was employed by the Colonial Civil Service in Trinidad and applied for a posting to Northern Nigeria. In November 1903 he arrived in Liverpool (from Montreal) on ‘Pretorian’ and on 19 December 1903 he left Liverpool on ‘Sokoto’ for Accra, Ghana. He worked in the Gold Coast Customs Service and spent time in both Ghana and Nigeria in the period leading up to the First World War. Every year he returned to England for a few months leave.

In the summer of 1914 he married Dorothy Katherine Hall Murton at Bromley in Kent.

Katherine Murton was the older of the 2 daughters of George Neame Murton (1852-1932) and Katherine Fanny Hall (1850-1897). She came from a wealthy middle class family, her father being a broker on the London Stock Exchange.  She was born in Notting Hill, London, but the family moved to Kent in the late 1880s eventually settling at Petley’s in Downe, Kent (near Bromley). After her mother died when she was 14 years old, her father’s unmarried sister, Ann, joined the family as housekeeper. Her younger sister, Gwendoline Esther Hall Murton (1885-1968) attended a boarding school and it is probable that Katherine did so as well.

After the marriage Colin returned to Lagos in August 1914 , setting sail a fortnight after war was declared. Katherine followed 3 months later. They returned to England at the end of November 1915, returning to Nigeria in April 1916. In November 1917 Katherine contracted blackwater fever, a complication of malaria with a high mortality rate. They were returning to England on SS Apapa when they were hit by a torpedo from U-Boat 96 under the command of Lieutenant Commander Heinrich Jess.

The SS Apapa was a modern vessel of 7000 tons, built in Glasgow by Harland & Wolff in 1914 and owned by the Elder Dempster shipping line. She was carrying mail, 119 passengers, 132 crew and a cargo of produce from West Africa to Liverpool. Originally she was part of a convoy, but the accompanying destroyers left the 3 ships heading for Liverpool when they reached the Welsh coast. SS Apapa lost contact with the other 2 ships, and was alone in a choppy sea on a cold, wintry night 3 miles off Port Lynas on the east coast of Anglesey when she was struck amidships at 4.00 am by a torpedo from U 96. She lost all power and all her lights, but there was full moonlight.

She listed and Captain James Toft ordered the boats to be lowered. All was proceeding in an orderly fashion when U96 fired a second torpedo. At the time it was seen as an example of the Germans firing on defenceless people in lifeboats, but according to U 96’s log, Heinrich Jess thought that the SS Apapa was not going to sink, and he just wanted to be sure. However most of those who died did so as a result of the second torpedo, as some lifeboats were still being lowered into the sea.

In all 77 lost their lives, 40 passengers and 37 crew.

However Colin and Katherine’s deaths cannot be put down to the second torpedo. Colin attempted to carry Katherine up on deck, but she was too weak and ill from her fever, and he returned down the hatch, saying he would stay with her in the cabin.

Colin’s body was found, probably by Hoylake fishermen, but Katherine’s remained in the ship, so either Colin never made it back to the cabin, or Katherine persuaded him to save himself, but he had left it too late.

Colin was buried on 5 December 1917 in Holy Trinity churchyard, Hoylake.

Katherine was substantially wealthier than her husband leaving nearly £2,000, whilst Colin left only a few hundred pounds.

It was a traumatic year for Katherine’s father and sister. Gwendoline had married Claude Holdsworth Hunt (1886-1917) in the summer of 1916. He was a member of the Royal Field Artillery serving as a staff Captain in the 18 Corps HQ when he died of wounds in France on 2 April 1917. He must have had a home leave not long before as Gwendoline gave birth to a daughter on 23 November 1917 just 5 days before Katherine died. Gwendoline remarried in 1926 but had no more children.

Colin and Katherine are also commemorated on Claude’s plaque at St Mary the Virgin, Downe, Kent.

Hunt & Harragin at Downe.jpeg

Notes – Colin Albert Harragin
Born : about 1880, probably in West Indies
Death : 27 November 1917 at sea when SS Apapa was sunk; body found off Wirral coast
Addresses : Great Western Railway Hotel, Pread Street, Paddington, London (11)
Occupation : Colonial civil servant – Gold Coast Customs
Commemorated : Grave in Holy Trinity Church Yard, Hoylake; St Mary the Virgin, Downe, Kent
Sources : Census 11; passenger lists; Probate; The National Archives files; Family History Society of Cheshire; www.findagrave.com

Notes – Katherine Harragin
Born : Jul 1883 at 45 Lansdowne Road, Notting Hill, London
Death : 27 November 1917 at sea when SS Apapa was sunk
Addresses : The Knoll, Stock Hill, Farnborough, Kent (91); Petley’s, Downe, Kent (01) (11)
Occupation : none
Commemorated : Grave in Holy Trinity Church Yard, Hoylake; St Mary the Virgin, Downe, Kent
Sources : Census 91, 01, 11; passenger lists; Probate; Family History Society of Cheshire, PR; www.findagrave.com

 

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