On 27 July 1916, Charles Algernon Fryatt, the Captain of the SS Brussels – a passenger ferry that ran between Harwich and neutral Holland – was executed by the Germans. He was only the second British civilian to be executed during the war; the other was nurse Edith Cavell, who was shot on the morning of 12 October 1915.
At the time, the executions of Cavell and Fryatt caused international outcry; their funerals were attended by thousands of enraged and patriotic mourners. While Nurse Cavell is now considered a martyr and a victim of German barbarism, the case of Captain Fryatt has all but disappeared from public consciousness.
This blog describes the events leading up to the execution of Captain Fryatt and explores the British government’s response to ‘this atrocious crime’. The death of Captain Fryatt also holds a personal dimension as my wife Rachel Fryatt is related to Captain Fryatt on her father’s side.
Charles Fryatt was born in 1872 and on leaving school joined the merchant navy. He quickly rose through the ranks and in 1915 became master of the SS Brussels, a Great Eastern Railway ship that sailed between the ports of Harwich and Rotterdam.
In February 1915, following the outbreak of the First World War, the German government announced that merchant ships operating in British waters would be attacked without warning. This was no idle threat. In March 1915, the SS Wrexham was attacked by a German U-boat and chased for 40 nautical miles into the port of Rotterdam. On 28 March 1915, the British steamship RMS Falaba was torpedoed and sunk by a German U-boat, resulting in the death of 104 people including one American passenger (ADM 137/3117).
On the same day that the Falaba was sunk, the SS Brussels was approached by a German submarine during a routine trip to Rotterdam and ordered to stop. Rather than give up his ship, Captain Fryatt ordered the crew to proceed at full speed and attempted to ram the submarine, forcing it to crash dive to avoid destruction. Continue reading »