Captain William T Williams RFA

This article is the result of a second in-depth research programme which has been undertaken concerning Senior Officers in the RFA.

William T Williams

William Williams was born in Barrow-in-Furness in October 1878 and after his usual schooling, went to sea, initially as a ‘Boy’ in the 50 ton Sailing Ketch MATER DEI.

The MATER DEI was owned and managed by John Williams of Llanelli, Wales

Mater Dei 01

After 1 month at sea, he was advanced to Ordinary Seaman and remained onboard in this rate for some 2 years and 4 months coasting.

His next ship was the 1,032 ton Sailing Barque OAKHURST where he was signed on as an Able Seaman and remained onboard for just over 9 months, sailing foreign. The OAKHURST had been built in 1879.

Oakhurst 01

He next signed on the 1,334 ton Sailing Barque INVERMARK, still as an Able Seaman and sailed foreign on her for 1 year and 5 months.

Invermark 01

In August 1901 he signed on the 2,681 ton ss TIVERTON, owned by the Glasgow Navigation Co Ltd where, as an Able Seaman, he remained on the Ship’s Articles for just under 3 months.

Tiverton 04

His combined sea-time now amounted to 4 years and 20 days and William Williams presented himself for examination for his 2nd Mates “ticket” on 6 January 1902 at Cardiff. He passed all aspects of the examination

Receiving his 2nd Mate’s “ticket”, which was dated 11 January 1902, it gave him the opportunity to sign on the ss SYDMONTON as the ship’s 3rd Mate 2 days later and he remained on that ship for just over the next 13 months.

2nd mates ticket

He presented himself to sit for his Mates “ticket” on 1st May 1903 and passed all aspects of the examination.

1st Mates ticket

William Williams went on in the coming years to obtain both his Masters and Extra Masters “tickets”.

Prior to 1913 he emigrated to New Zealand and was appointed as Captain of the Auckland Harbour Pilot Cutter WAITEMATA.

Pilot Boat Waitemata


By early 1914 William returned to the UK via Vancouver and signed on as 2nd Mate of the Great Central Railway Co’s ship ss LEICESTER, which sailed on her owners’ Grimsby to Hamburg service. By 12 October 1914, just after the start of World War 1, this ship was requisitioned by the Admiralty for service as a Stores Carrier. Her name was not changed but she was nominated as Naval Stores Carrier No 23 (Y 8.23)

The ship’s Master and Crew remained with the ship, which was mainly deployed in carrying Naval Stores between various Dockyards and other venues used by Royal Naval warships

2nd Mate Williams committed his thoughts to paper and in a letter sent to New Zealand he reports –

“Last voyage we were attached to the First Battle Cruiser Squadron (Beatty’s ships). We go alongside each ship in turn, and discharge right into them. The LION and TIGER are the elite of this Fleet, and are a sight worth seeing. The NEW ZEALAND is there, and the crew look well and hearty. Commander Grace has just left her, upon promotion to Captain’s rank, and is now in command of a light cruiser. Pelorus Jack, the bulldog which was presented to the ship when she visited New Zealand over two years ago, looks in first-class form. The animal wears one of his silver collars every day, and attends the bugle-call to ‘general divisions’ every morning. He stands solemnly in line with the Blue Jackets while Captain Halsey inspects his men. In fact, the dog appears to understand every bugle-call. The NEW ZEALAND has the White Ensign painted on both sides of her conning-tower on the main mast, so of course she cannot haul her flag down. The only plan she could follow if surrendering to the enemy would be to send a man up aloft with a pot of paint to obliterate the flag.

The submarine is looming a trifle larger in this war than was anticipated, but Germany is not getting much chance from the Merchantman if the latter sees half a chance of getting bow on to the pirate.

We have to keep on the qui vive when steaming up and down the coast, and keep a constant sharp look-out for the enemy. Coastal work has not been exactly a picnic during the long winter months. Every light is extinguished on the east coast. Our ship has a good turn of speed, and we do our steaming from 8am to 4pm during December and January. The Admiralty are very good people to deal with, and we just paddle along to suit ourselves.

We are now able to steam from 3.30am to 8.30pm and will soon be able to put in a 20-hour run, with prospects of fine weather. The danger from floating mines deterred us from steaming much after dark.”

ss LEICESTER continued with her Admiralty service, mainly along the south and east coasts of the UK throughout 1915. Her final voyage in 1915 was from Deptford, sailing on 29 December to Portsmouth, arriving 2 days later.

On 12 February 1916 she sailed from Portsmouth with a cargo of Naval Stores for Cromarty. When 2½ miles off Folkestone, Kent she hit a mine which had been laid by the German Submarine UC-6. The ship broke in two and sank. All bar 7 of the crew were killed. Those who died have no known grave and are remembered with pride on the Tower Hill Memorial and also in the Fisherman’s and Seaman’s Memorial Chapel, Central Hall, Grimsby.

2nd Mate Williams survived the sinking and some weeks later again penned his memories to the folks back in New Zealand. He said –

“My ship was lost some nine weeks ago. It struck a moored mine and I am one of 7 survivors out of a crew of 25. We had left port about 12 hours previously, and were steaming at ‘full’ during the forenoon and within about 2 miles from land when a stunning explosion occurred, followed by a rattle as of machinery gone mad. I happened to be on the bridge at the time, and quickly realised that the vessel would not float long. As a matter of fact, she sank in less than 30 seconds, carrying us all down in the vortex. The boats, which had been swung out on leaving port were smashed to matchwood by the force of the concussion and the only ones which came to the surface had been on the chocks griped down. How they cleared themselves is a mystery; anyway, although they were bottom up they saved the lives of myself and 3 seaman. The water was bitterly cold, and when the patrol trawlers picked us up we had no strength to take our wet clothes off. The engine room staff had no earthly chance. They must have been blown to pieces. The watch below had no time to get out of their rooms, so you can gather that it was a close call for all of us. I had a fortnight in bed with bronchitis after it. I am now a Chief Officer with the rank of Sub-Lieutenant RNR in the Royal Fleet Auxiliary.”

In fact, Chief Officer Williams RFA had been appointed as a Temporary Sub-Lieutenant RNR on 30 March 1916. He was detailed for a 2-week gunnery course at HMS EXCELLENT on Whale Island on 22 January 1917. Promoted to Temporary Lieutenant RNR on 19 February 1917, he was given command of RFA KIMMEROL.

On 9 November 1917 he was appointed in command of RFA FRANCOL with the rank of Lieutenant RNR and became the ship’s Master under a Board of Trade agreement on 1 November 1919. He remained as Master of RFA FRANCOL until 25 January 1920 when his appointment in the RNR also ceased

His appointments in command of various RFAs followed, details of most are listed here –

1 March 1920 RFA LARCHOL
24 March 1924 RFA WAR SIRDAR
4 January 1926 RFA SLAVOL
26 February 1931 RFA BRAMBLELEAF (1)
23 November 1932 RFA WAR AFRIDI

On 18 March 1933 Captain Williams of RFA WAR AFRIDI appeared before Gosport Police Court charged with attempting to evade duties on a quantity of spirits, liqueurs and champagne, eight pairs of artificial silk stockings and cigarettes valued together at £4 5sh 10d plus £13 0sh 5d duty. It was reported to the Court that a Customs & Excise rummage crew boarded the vessel at Gosport when it arrived from the Persian Gulf. Captain Williams only declared certain items that he had in use. A search found other items concealed in a space below drawers in his cabin. The Captain explained to the Customs’
Officer that the undeclared items were for his use while the ship was laid up at Devonport. In a written statement, Captain Williams told the Court that he was going to use the goods for the ship’s company. The artificial silk stockings were from a friend in Alexandria and he was going to give them to his wife as a gift. He regretted his actions.
The Court fined Captain Williams £35

Further RFA appointments followed only some of which can be traced

20 November 1933 RFA PRESTOL                                                     8 May 1935 RFA LIMOL

While RFA Limol was deployed at Gibraltar Captain Williams was taken ill and admitted to the Royal Naval Hospital there for observation. Subsequently he was invalided home in the P & O Passenger liner  Viceroy of India where on arrival at Plymouth in December 1935 he was admitted to the Royal Naval Hospital at Stonehouse for surgery but afterwards succumbed to the shock of the operation, dying on the 23rd of the month.

His death was announced in the Western Morning News of the 24 December 1935 and later in the April 1936 Edition of the Dolphin & Guild Gazette, the in-house magazine of the Imperial Merchant Service Guild.