Re-issue of “Burnley & The Royal Edward Disaster”

The book is a unique record of how this virtually unknown First World War Merchant Marine disaster, when over a 1000 men drowned, impacted on the Lancashire town and nationally.

Following the sell out of the previous editions (first published in 2005) a 3rd Edition has been published by popular demand.
The A4 size book (132 pages including many unique photographs) may be purchased for £13.00 including postage and packing from :

Denis Otter 01745857882

or Andrew Mackay 01282414270


Burnley was the weaving capital of the world at the beginning of the 20th century with more looms per head of the population than any other town or city. In 1914 it had a population of about 110,000 which was mainly involved in cotton weaving, coal mining and related engineering industry and the majority lived in closely packed terraced housing (Burnley has been described as “the biggest village in the world” because of its close community links) shrouded by smoke from the many mill chimneys which gave only occasional glimpses of the surrounding glorious countryside. Then as now Burnley was a football town – Burnley F.C. beating Liverpool 1-0 in the 1914 F.A.Cup Final watched by H.M. The King.

Burnley has always had strong military connections - there are records of Waterloo veterans being buried in the churchyard. A barracks was built in the town in 1828 (some say to provide a permanent base to keep the unruly populace in order!). The Brigadier who led the charge of the Heavy Brigade in the Crimean War General James Scarlett lived in Burnley at Bank Hall. There is a brass plaque in St Peter’s Church to commemorate the East Lancashire Regiments casualties in the Boer War.

When war came many Burnley men went off to the Front almost immediately and there was a rush to join the colours. About 470 Burnley men were killed in the first 12 months of the war – that is about 9 a week on average. People were aware that the war was going on but did not realize that things were going to get much worse.

The sinking of the Royal Edward on Friday 13th August (Burnley’s Black Friday!) with 38 deaths really shocked the town and brought home to everyone that this was going to be a long brutal war! And it was! A total of 4,000 men from Burnley and District lost their lives and countless others were maimed or wounded in WW1. It has been said that with approximately 16% of the male population being killed (calling ages 16-46 as of military age out of a total male population of 60,000 for the district) Burnley district had one of the highest death rates in the country.

Unfortunately this was only a taste of things to come. The massive local casualty rate which resulted from the Battle of Loos – 49 Burnley dead on 25th September 1915 and 86 on 1st July 1916 soon overshadowed 13th August 1915 and this was only really the beginning of the sacrifices to come.

This loss of 38 men, including 35 from a small unit, recruited from within Burnley was the first time that one small unit recruited from one town (in reality a “Pals” unit that proved so popular for recruiting in the industrial and commercial towns and cities at the beginning of the war) was decimated – and the first time that the huge media reaction, and its effect on morale in one town, to such an event became evident.

Perhaps this is why the publication of some casualty lists from other later battles took a long time to emerge and why wounded soldiers were often not returned to their original battalions.

A notice appeared in the Burnley Express and Advertiser for November 18, 1914:-


Captain Callam, Royal Army Medical Corps, will at once proceed to recruit for the new 2nd (Reserve) East Lancashire Field Ambulance. For this purpose, Captain Callam will require between 180 and 200 men including three buglers, and is anxious that the Field Ambulance should consist entirely of men from Burnley and district.
Recruits are requested to present themselves at the R.A.M.C. Headquarters, Barracks Road, on Thursday morning at 10.30 o'clock.”

After the draft of 70 men of the 2nd/2nd East Lancashire Field Ambulance left for Heathfield the remainder of the unit became part of the 66th Division based at Colchester. Commencing in October 1916 and finishing in February 1917 the 2nd/2nd E.L.F.A. produced 5 editions of a magazine called The TOURNIQUET. The editor was Lieutenant Colonel A. Callam and the sub-editor was Private D.J. McLean. These magazines contain a unique first hand account of the Disaster. (Facsimile copies are obtainable at £10 a set from D. Otter or A. Mackay).


Later the 2nd/2nd ELFA moved to Heathfield in Sussex. During their stay at Heathfield they took the deepest interest in their work and were overjoyed when they were ordered for service abroad. They were told one bright July morning that seventy men were needed for service abroad, and there would be a ballot. All the men were eager for active service abroad and after the ballot there was a smile of success for the winners, and disappointment for the losers. Little did the winners know what was in store for them! On the morning of the 29th July 1915 the seventy men marched to the station and travelled to Exeter by train and then onto Devonport where they camped at St Bordeaux camp. On the afternoon of the 30th July they boarded the “Royal Edward” Transport for Gallipoli.


The news of the Disaster began to filter back to England. On Monday, August 16th the Admiralty announced the loss of the Royal Edward and this was first reported in the national press. Only a small number of people read “The Times” in Burnley at that time. The disaster was covered in other newspapers as well, although perhaps not in such depth, and the news soon reverberated round Burnley and district.

The Times Tue. Aug. 17, 1915


The Secretary of the Admiralty announced yesterday that the transport Royal Edward has been sunk by an enemy submarine in the Aegean Sea. The loss of life was apparently about 1000, those on board numbering just over 1600 and about 600 being saved.

The following is the text of the Admiralty announcement –
The British transport Royal Edward was sunk by an enemy submarine in the Aegean Sea last Saturday morning.

According to the information at present available the transport had on board 32 military officers and 1350 troops, in addition to the ship’s crew of 220 officers and men. The troops consisted mainly of reinforcements for the 29th Division and details of the Army Medical Corps.

Full information has not yet been received, but it is known that about 600 have been saved.



The connection between Burnley and the tragic affair is, it is feared, very close indeed, and tidings are anxiously awaited as to the men whom have been saved. The official announcement mentioned “detachments of the R.A.M.C.” and a good many Burnley folk, some Padiham and Briercliffe people believe that near relatives are to be found among the detachments. During the weekend numerous postcards have been received, these having been posted at Malta, and some of the writers stated that they were on the Royal Edward.

One pathetic message on the back of a picture postcard of the Royal Edward was as follows:- “Dear son, - This is a picture of our troopship, the one your daddy is on”.

We understand that practically all of one detachment consists of local men, and these number between 60 and 70, and we have it on good authority that the gentleman under whom they were recruited and trained more than once declared that they were the best lot of men he had ever worked with. They were a keen and hard-working set of men, and were anxious to enter upon the serious duty they had enlisted for.


Though it is a fortnight this morning that the troopship the Royal Edward was torpedoed in the Aegean Sea, on its way to the Dardenelles, no official list of survivors and victims has yet been issued. It was estimated that about 600 men of a total of of 1,500 on board were saved, the troops consisting mainly, according to the Admiralty notification of reinforcements for the 29th Division and detachments of the R.A.M.C. The latter was known to include a batch of about 70 men from this district from the 2/1st and 2/2nd East Lancashire Field Ambulance (Territorials), and the fate of these men has occasioned much anxiety in Burnley and Padiham whence the men were chiefly recruited.

The newspaper editions of September 8th were at last able to give the official list of men “missing believed drowned”. It was reported:-

“During the weekend the War Office issued a list of the rank and file missing and believed to have drowned as the result of the torpedoing of the transport the Royal Edward. The total missing is given as 851men. Among the regiments which suffered the greatest losses were:-
Hampshire Regiment 2nd Battalion 211
Essex Regiment 1st Battalion 175
Army Service Corps 123
R.A.M.C. (E. Anglian Casualty Clearing Station) 55
R.A.M.C. (2nd East Lancashire Field Ambulance) 35
Border Regiment 59
King's Own Scottish Borderers 1st Battalion 58
South Wales Borderers 2nd Battalion 56
Lancashire Fusiliers 1st Battalion 27

Altogether the disaster has been responsible for the bereavement of the relatives of 36 local men, 34 of them belonged to the R.A.M.C. As 37 men have been saved it means that just over 50% of the local men on board have been saved from a watery grave.”




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