The steamer Westmoreland

The steamer Westmoreland, photographed here in Wellington Harbour in the interwar years, had a long association with New Zealand.

In September 1922, almost four years after the end of the First World War, this freighter carried the last cargo of New Zealand wool purchased by Britain under the wartime imperial ‘commandeer’. Built in 1917 for the British-owned Federal line, an affiliate of the New Zealand Shipping Company, the Westmoreland had survived a German U-boat attack in the Irish Sea in 1918, and the following year brought home the members of the New Zealand Maori (Pioneer) Battalion, one of only two New Zealand formations to return from the war as a complete unit.

The Westmoreland was a regular visitor between the wars, and during the Second World War was again used to transport New Zealand agricultural exports commandeered by Britain.

The ship’s luck ran out in 1942: after sailing from Wellington with a cargo of 28,000 sheep and pig carcasses, butter, cheese and wool, it was torpedoed by a German U-boat off Bermuda on 1 June.

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George G Russell

Posted: 02 Oct 2020

My wife's Grandfather, James Brownlee Dick O.B.E., was Chief Engineer on this ship when she was torpedoed in February 1918 in the north channel between Rathlin Island and the coast of Scotland.

The torpedo penetrated the hold, but did not explode. It was then stabilised and leaks were plugged using sheep skins from the cargo.She limped towards Birkenhead, but had to be run aground off Seascale in Cumbria. Navy divers removed the torpedo and she was refloated nad towed into Birkenhead where the remains of her now defrosted cargo of meat and Australian Red Cross supplies were unloaded some 3 weeks later !

I have photographs of her aground, with the sea lapping around her wheelhouse.