The first foreign aliens arrived in Southend on Wednesday 18th November 1914. They were taken down the pier to the waiting prison ships moored just off the pier.
At the out-break of the First World War there was three prison ships were moored just off Southend Pier. The use of Prison Ship had been raised in Parliament as early as March 1915, focusing on the expense of hiring the ships from the cruise lines for the internment of prisoners of war.
Agreement was reached that the use of such ships would cease by the middle of April 1915 but those at Southend remained until after May 1915.
The Royal Edward.
Originally named RMS Cairo the Royal Edward was a passenger ship built by the Fairfield Shipbuilding and Engineering Company of Govan, Scotland. She was launched in 1907, fitting out was completed in 1908. She was originally operated for the British Mail Service to Egypt. She was 525ft 11in in length (160.3 metres) and 60ft 4in abeam (18.4 metres).
Propulsion came from three steam turbines that drove three propeller shafts; this gave a top speed of 19 knots (35 km/h). Accommodation for 1,114 passengers over three classes: 344 in first class, 210 in second class, and 560 in third.
At the outbreak of war the ship was leased by the British Government and sailed to Southend to be used at a prison ship.
The Royal Edward was the largest of the three vessels she was almost sunk by the German Army Zeppelin LZ38 on the 10th May 1915 when Southend received it’s first air raid a bomb falling just yards from the ship.
The Royal Edward retained its 1st, 2nd, 3rd class cabins those interned on board were able to pay for beds in any of the three classes of cabin.
The American Embassy in Berlin sent Mr John B Jackson to inspect the treatment and conditions the Prisoners of War were being kept in during their detention in the United Kingdom. He reported back to Germany that the Royal Edward was in use and that it was a “Ship of Show” the three classes of cabins were rented to those held on board from 2 schillings to 5 schillings a week the price would change depending on how many people were sharing a cabin it could drop to as little as 6d a week.
All prisoners were locked below decks at night, for security reasons, this caused some nervousness among the Germans knowing that the Zeppelins could come at any time. A direct hit would mean no escape and certain death.
The Royal Edward was called in as a troop transport in June 1915 and in the 28 July 1915, embarked 1,367 officers and men at Avonmouth. She was tasked to sail to Gallipoli with her reinforcement for the British 29th Infantry, and a troop of Royal Army Medical Corps.
She had arrived at Alexandria on 10th August 1915, from here she headed to the harbour of Moudros on the island of Lemnos, a staging point for the ships in the Dardanelles. She passed the British hospital ship Soudan on 14th August 1915 which was heading in the opposite direction.
Below the surface unseen by the two British ships lay the German submarine UB-14 commanded by Oberleutnant zur Heino von Heimburg, noting that the Soudan was carrying full hospital ship colours and had all lights on he let it pass by unhindered and focused his attention on the unescorted Royal Albert.
With his prey sailing six miles off Kandeloussa, the German commander Von ordered one of UB-14's two torpedoes to be launched from a distance of a mile. The torpedo hit the Royal Edward in the stern, within six minutes nothing of the Royal Edward was left above the water.
The radio operator was able to get a quick SOS off before all power was lost, the hospital ship Soudan make a 180dg turn and headed immediately to the area where the Royal Edward had sunk. Upon arriving she was able to rescue 440 over six hours, two French destroyers and a handful of fishing trawlers arrived on the scene and together picked up another 221 survivors, a total of 935 being lost.
The SS Ivernia was built by the Swan Hunter & Wigham Richardson of Newcastle upon Tyne, England as an ocean liner for the Cunard Line, she was launched in 1899. The Ivernia was an intermediate liner, that originally operated the Liverpool—Boston route, she was later transferred to cater for the immigrant route from Trieste to New York City. Her sister ship was the SS Saxonia (see below).
At the outbreak of the First World War she was immediately pressed into service as a prison Ship off Southend pier,
Following the outbreak of World War I in August 1914 the Ivernia was pressed into service as a prison ship and moored off Southend Pier. When the prison ships were replaced by on shore camps the Ivernia became a troop ship captained by Captain Turner (made famous for being the captain of RMS Lusitania at the time of her sinking).
A torpedo fired by UB-47 struck the Ivernia whilst it was sailing 58miles South-east of Cape Matapan in Greece at 10:12am on 1st January 1917 the ship sank over the next hour. HMS Rifeman rescued a number of men from the water whilst two armed trawlers took the lifeboats and rafts under tow carrying the majority of the survivors however 120 men were lost.
The RMS Saxonia was another Cunard liner she was built at Glasgow by John Brown & Co. Ltd in 1899 and weighed in at 14,281gross tons. She was 580ft long with a beam of 64.2ft. She was powered by quadruple expansion engines powering two propellers giving a service speed 15 knots with space for 1964 people.
She set out on her maiden voyage on the 25th may 1900 departing Liverpool for Queenstown (Boston). She was pressed into service as a troop ship at the outbreak of the First World War by the Canadian Government, however she only ever made one trip with Canadian forces on board. After landing the troops she was taken to Southend where she became a prison ship, she was then taken over as a British troop transport and remained serving until the end of hostilities.
Once peace returned she underwent a major overhaul and refitted to carry 471 Cabin Class with 978 other class cabins. Despite the overhaul the aging ship was rapidly being superseded by the new liners of the day, she sailed on until she went to the breakers yard in March 1925.
A land based camp was reported to have opened in Southend on 2nd March 1918 with it reported closing down on 11th December 1918. The exact location has not been tracked down but it was reported that a large Victorian house on Victoria Avenue was pressed into action as a holding location, the house was said to have later became a school and was located close to what is now the Southend Borough Council Civic Centre.