The Great War at Sea: Fishing Boat Encounters


“On Saturday 23 February 1918, I being master of the fishing boat ‘Girl Emily’ of Peel put to sea with a crew of four men, about four o’clock pm. Whilst about ten miles off Peel, fishing for cod, we encountered a German submarine which cam alongside of us. They asked if I was fishing, I answered “yes”. He then left us and came around on our starboard quarter, and when about one hundred yards away he fired at us, I was at the tiller and the shot struck a stanchion not a yard away from my front. i was severely wounded in the face with splinters. Some splinters entered beneath my right eye, and have seriously affected my sight.

The Germans then fired three times again the shots going through the bulwarks and the sail. They came alongside and demanded our fish which, as we were quite helpless we gave to them. There was £20 worth of fish, and they took all. I was in the Doctor’s care for three weeks, and the experience has also shaken my nerve, so that as a consequence I have not been able to prosecute my calling as a fisherman as profitably as before the accident.

I am sixty eight years of age and I might add that two of my sons served with his majesties [sic] Navy during the war, and one lost his life whilst serving King and country. I would respectfully ask if you can assist me to procure some compensation for the loss I sustained through the attack made on my boat by an enemy submarine”.

John Hughes, the skipper of fishing boat Girl Emily, to the War Pensions Committee, 1919

Quoted in This Terrible Ordeal: Manx Letters, Diaries and Memories of the Great War by Matthew Richardson

“…about 25 miles N1/4E of Beaumaris, as we were going to frame a sail I heard a shot. About 20 yards astern I saw a shell hit the water, and then I observed a submarine about 1/4 mile off. i put the vessel’s head to wind and immediately another shot was fired. I then lowered the sail of the boat and ran her towards the submarine. My brother Richard [Dicky] Lee signalled to the submarine that we had no rifle. The submarine then came astern of us and fired and third shot. We signalled again that we had no boat, when the submarine came alongside us, and we were told to come on board. we were taken on board the submarine and at 7:30 on 10th March the commander informed us that he would put us off in a boat on meeting a sailing vessel. The submarine was on the surface from 7.30 to 11.00am but we were below. About 1pm on 10 March I was in the Marconi room and saw the man in charge apparently preparing a bomb. We were then told to get ready to go ashore as we were being put out in a sailing boat belonging to the wave. The crew of the Wave were already on it and we saw the Wave sunk. We then came on to Whitehaven with the crew of the Wave, where we arrive at 6pm on 10 March”.

Thomas Lee, master of the fishing boat Marguerite, in a sworn statement following the incident

Quoted in This Terrible Ordeal: Manx Letters, Diaries and Memories of the Great War by Matthew Richardson


Douglas fisherman Dicky Lee, of the fishing vessel Marguerite

Back to top