At the end of the Great War, the bodies of only three heroes were ever brought back to England and given state funerals, those of the nurse Edith Cavell, of the Unknown Warrior, and of a Southampton born ferry captain called Charles Algernon Fryatt.
The stories of Edith Cavell and of the Unknown Warrior have come to be well known, but the merchant seaman who sailed between England and Holland with cargo and civilians while the sea was alive with enemy submarines and who gained fame across the World has long since been forgotten. ‘Captain Fryatt – The Martyr of Bruges’ is a special exhibition that will tell the story of the captain who, to save his passengers, crew and ship, attempted to ram a German submarine and how, for this gallant act, was later to be captured and executed in Bruges.
The exhibition will tell how, from Southampton, he moved to Harwich and rose up through the ranks of the Great Eastern Railway Company to become captain of their steamer s.s. Brussels. It will cover how the danger to merchant shipping increased once the Germans declared unrestricted warfare in the waters around Britain and how he had had two previous encounters with German submarines. And it will explain how he came to be captured off Zeebrugge and sent to an internment camp near Berlin before being returned to Bruges to be court martialled and sentenced to death. The court’s ruling was not unanimous. Two members of the legal review panel, Eduard Bernstein and Oskar Cohn, dissented because in their opinion Fryatt’s sentence had been a severe infringement of international law. However, Fryatt was executed on 27th July 1916.
His coffin was landed at Dover, and transported to London. On 8th July 1919, his funeral was held at St Paul’s Cathedral. Hundreds of merchant seamen and widows of merchant seamen and fishermen attended. Representing the Government were many members of the Admiralty, the Board of Trade, the Cabinet and the War Office. He was posthumously awarded the Order of Leopold and the Belgian Maritime War Cross.
The exhibition, which has been produced by historian Mark P. Baker, will be open on Saturday and Sunday, 2nd & 3rd September 2017 in the Masonic Hall, Albion Place, Southampton, SO14 2DD, between 10.00 am and 5.00 pm both days. We published the history of this brave man in the May 2009 edition and I would strongly recommend that anyone in reach of Southampton should attend this fitting tribute to such a great man.