Boston trawlerman captured by Germans and spent First World War in prisoner of war camp

Rufus Brevett. Picture (c) Guy Wills
Rufus Brevett. Picture (c) Guy Wills

The dramatic tale of a Boston trawlerman captured by the Germans at the outbreak of the First World War has been recalled by a relative.

Charles Walkerley was one of scores of Boston fishermen attacked by Germans in the North Sea and taken to prisoner of war camps for the entire duration of the 1914-1918 war.

The steam trawler 'Skirbeck' - similar to the Julian

The steam trawler 'Skirbeck' - similar to the Julian

His story is retold by his great-granddaughter’s husband Richard Caville, of Portsmouth.

After 13 years working on steam trawlers out of Boston, Charles signed on to the trawler ‘Julian’ on August 21, 1914, less than a month after Britain declared war. Charles was a second hand and put to sea.

“The crew were unaware that world events would prevent them from seeing England again for another four years,” said Mr Caville. “They were ordered back on the 25th but they never arrived home.

“By the end of August, the first month of the war, 26 trawlers had gone missing, the majority from Boston and Grimsby, and by September 3 no word had yet been received as to their fate, causing much distress among their families.”

More trawlers went missing during the war - and in the years following the war, many due to the mines left at sea. One account says the Julian was hit by three German shells. After being taken prisoner, the surviving crew were marched two miles without boots through crowds of jeering Germans to the prison camp at Cuxhaven, Hamberg.

“They were harshly treated and badly fed,” said Mr Caville. “They then endured terrible conditions at Hamburg before being taken to Sennelager.”

In an interview with The Standard on his homecoming in January 1918, Charles spoke of how they ‘lived like pigs’ at the camp, being fed out of swill tubs, only for their captors to pocket a lot of the food for themselves.

Mr Caville added: “We’ve often wondered how many other families are re-discovering the stories of their ancestors and the impact on Boston of so many men going ‘missing’ in the first weeks of the war. I hope their story and ordeal is to be remembered in Boston.”

More details are available on Mr Caville’s website

See the centre pages for our latest First World War suplement.