Grief Turned to Joy

Archival Moment

March 22, 1915

Grief Turned to Joy

nurse-chessYesterday (March 22, 1915) the home of Mrs. Agnes Wheeler, Torbay Road which has been the scene of mourning and sorrow since the loss of the HMS Clan McNaughton was suddenly changed into one of joy. Mrs. Wheeler had been mourning the loss of her son Philip who was believed to have been on the missing ship when a letter from her boy came yesterday announcing the joyful news that he was quite safe.

Mrs. Wheeler, age 51, a widow, the mother of three children, had been mourning the loss of her son with her two other children, Peter, age 17; and Mary age 11 since early February.

The following is his letter.

  1. Ward

Fizakerley Hospital, Liverpool.

February 26th, 1915

My dearest mother.

Just a few lines, hoping you are keeping quite well as it leaves me at present. Dear mother, I am just writing to let you know I came off the Clan McNaughton before she went down and I am quite safe. I am in this hospital with pneumonia but I am glad to tell you I have got over the worst of it and I am progressing favorably and hope to be out soon.

I have no more to say at present hoping to hear from you soon.

I remain your loving son,


Please mother; remember me to all at home.


Another letter was received from Sister Ryder (a nurse) of the hospital who writes as follows:

Ward F 4

lst Western General Hospital Fizakerley

March 1st 1915

nurse writingDear Mrs. Wheeler,

l do not know if your son Philip has written to you since he has been in this hospital but seeing his name amongst the names of those brave men missing from HMS Clan McNaughton I thought perhaps you would be relieved to hear he has been in this hospital since the 20th of January. He has been very ill with typhoid fever but is now doing very well and we hope that he will soon be up and about again.

Yours sincerely,

Sister H. Ryder

The gladness which these rays of heavenly sunshine brought to that humble dwelling on the Torbay Road yesterday (March 22, 1915) can better be imagined than described. The story of Philip Wheeler’s escape is a remarkable one. He was first drafted for the ill-fated Viknor but was taken ill and had to remain ashore. Later he joined the HMS Clan McNaughton and the rest of his story is told in the letter to his mother.

Mrs. Wheeler is a happy woman today but mingled with her happiness is a tender sympathy for those mothers who are still left to weep for the brave sons they have given in the service of the Empire.

History of the HMS Clan McNaughton

deathnavalHMS Clan Macnaughton was a converted cargo passenger ship built in 1911. The vessel was hired by the Admiralty in November 1914. She was sunk during a severe gale (or possibly mined) off the NW coast of Ireland with the loss of all hands.

The true cause of her sinking has never been fully established. However, there has been some speculation that a combination of a bad Atlantic storm, coupled with a top heavy ship (due to the fitting of naval guns) may have contributed to her loss rather than a loose mine out in the Atlantic.

Stephen Dicker from Flat Island, Bonavista Bay, joined the HMS Clan MacNaughton on January 19, 1915 and voiced discontent about working conditions: “Anyone that has experienced a month at sea in a boat like this will say that the landsmen has got a blessing.”

On February 3, 1915, the HMS Clan MacNaughton was sunk with the loss of all 261 on board, including 23 Newfoundlanders. In total, during the war, 192 reservists and 117 merchant sailors from Newfoundland perished.

Those who died were:

BRYAN, Edward Smn 1284X of Elizabeth Tucker [formerly Bryan] and the late John Bryan Thorburn Road, St. John’s

BUTLER, Peter Smn 2174X of William and Anne Butler Harbour Grace

CHAFE, William Henry Smn 1283X of Henry and Hannah Chafe Forest Pond, The Goulds, St. John’s

COADY, Timothy Francis Smn 1293X of Anna Coady 22 York Street, St. John’s

CROCKER, Stanley Smn 2178X of John Charles and Jane Crocker Heart’s Delight, Trinity Bay

DICKER, Stephen Smn 1240X of22 George and Jane Dicker Flat Island, Bonavista Bay

DYER, William Gerrard Smn 2170X of Mrs. Helen Dyer Logy Bay, St. John’s East

HALLETT, Albert Smn 931X of Jonas and Sarah Hallett Flat Island, Bonavista Bay

KAVANAGH, Thomas Joseph Smn 217X of James and Katherine Kavanagh Logy Bay, St. John’s East

KEHOE, William J. Smn 2173X of Michael Thomas and Christina Kehoe Riverhead, Harbour Grace

KNIGHT, Thomas Smn 1297X of William and Annie Knight Pleasant Street, St. John’s

MORGAN, John Thomas Smn 1255X of Joseph Morgan Seal Cove, Conception Bay

MORRIS, Walter Smn 1282X of Mrs. Amelia Morris 63 Field Street, St. John’s

O’BRIEN, Patrick J. Smn 2172X of Richard J. and Matilda O’Brien

OSMOND, Gerald Augustus Smn 1287X H.M.S. Husband of Mary Osmond 121 Duckworth Street, St. John’s

PIKE, Francis Smn 2175X H.M.S. of Mrs. Susan Pike Water Street, Harbour Grace

RANDELL, Ralph Smn 2176X of John and Elizabeth Randell Elliott’s Cove, Random Island

SIMMONS, F. Eugene Smn 1285X of L.H. and Anne Simmons Spruce Brook

SNOW, Randell Joseph Smn 1256X of Mrs. Elizabeth Snow Mundy Pond Road, St. John’s

SQUIRES, Richard J. Smn 1280X H.M.S. of Richard J. and Elizabeth Squires St. John’s

STONE, Edward Smn 1295X of Edward and Isidorah Stone Bell Island

WATKINS, Jonas Smn 2177X of Henry and Ellen Watkins Summerford, Notre Dame Bay

(If you are friends with someone who shares the surname of one of these men ā€“ send them this post ā€“ it might be an ancestor.)


Recommended Archival Collection: At the Rooms Provincial Archives research the Newfoundland Royal Naval Reserve fonds . GB 1/3. This collection consists of 17 volumes of personnel records for the Newfoundland Royal Naval Reserve (1900-1919). Records include applications for enrolment, naval service ledgers and registers of payment and retainers. Includes an alphabetical listing of reservists. Microfilm reproductions are available for research. Reel content is provided with item level descriptions.

Photo Credit: The Rooms Provincial Archives VA-58-21, Reservist in complete uniform, HMS Briton, ca. 1916.