Greaser William Bell

Greaser William Bell, Mercantile Marine Reserve. He was lost at sea on 25th January 1917, aged 32 when the Armed Merchant Cruiser H.M.S. “Laurentic” was sunk. He had been born in Alva, Clackmananshire and was the son of Mr and Mrs James Bell of 30 Curror Street, Selkirk. Before enlisting in August 1914 he had worked as a woollen piercer in Selkirk and he is commemorated on the Plymouth Naval Memorial. The “Laurentic” was built by Harland and Wolff in Belfast as a passenger liner for the Dominion Line only to be purchased by the White Star Line. The ship of 14,8921 tons was launched in 1908 and was meant for the Canadian passenger trade and was originally named the S.S.” Alberta” before joining the White Star fleet and being re-named ” Laurentic”. At the outbreak of War she was commissioned as a troop transport for the Canadian Expeditionary Force, painted grey and given the H.M.S. title. She was afterwards fitted with 8 six inch and 2 six pounder naval guns guns and converted into an Armed Merchant Cruiser to be deployed on patrol work firstly in the Far East and then the North Atlantic. On 23rd January she left Liverpool for Halifax carrying 475 crew and naval passengers together with a secret cargo of gold for the purchases of munitions. On the 25th just off Lough Swilly, Ireland the ship struck two mines sinking within an hour. Rough seas and the cold weather made rescue difficult and there were only 121 survivors with 354 lost almost all due to exposure.

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