Thanks to information which has come our way from Tom Chissell, a diver from Basingstoke, we are reminded, if we ever knew, that the village of Dulwich has lent its name to at least two steamships. Residents ignorant of the village's connections with the sea may be disappointed to learn that neither vessel was particularly glamorous. No frigates, battleships or aircraft carriers here.
Both ships graced with the name S.S. Dulwich were workaday colliers with the Merchant Navy. As such, of course, they performed a vital supply function. Sadly, both came to tragic ends.
One of them lies over 100 feet down on the seabed off the Normandy coast. It has been there ever since it was sunk by a German submarine in the First World War with the loss of two lives. The steamship was reported as being torpedoed on February 15, 1915, by German U Boat U16. At the time it was six miles from Cape d'Antifer carrying a cargo of coal from Hull to Rouen. Whether it was armed or not is unclear.
We know it is there not least because Chissell, a member of the British Sub-Aqua Club, has seen it there. When he is not working as a Microsoft engineer, he will very likely be found submerged in the English Channel. "I have done numerous dives in French waters off the Normandy coast from a charter vessel operating from the British coast," he says. "The area is littered with wrecks from both world wars".
It may surprise some to hear that, according to Chissell, visibility off the coast is generally very good, often approaching ten metres, while in mid-English Channel, it is even better with visibilities of fifteen metres.
Chissell says the wreck of the S.S. Dulwich, which was 330ft long with a gross tonnage of 3,290 tons is upright, standing some three metres from a gravel bed but is "fairly broken". Intrigued by its fate, he did some research into its origins and found that it was built by the shipbuilders Ropner and Son at their yard at Stockton-on-Tees in 1893 and was owned by the Watts shipping company. Attempts to obtain a photograph of the ship from this and other sources failed. In the process Chissell discovered that there was a second S.S. Dulwich, also a collier and owned by the South Metropolitan Gas Company of London. A smaller ship measuring 240ft in length with a gross tonnage of 1,460, it was built by the Dublin Dockyard Company in 1916.
It didn't last long. While sailing from Seaham Harbour in County Durham to London with a cargo of coal on June 10, 1917, it struck a mine laid by German submarine UB 12 and sank in the North Sea seven miles north of the Shipwash Lightvessel and about four miles off the coast of Aldeburgh in Suffolk. Five lives were lost.