[From How the Manx Fleet helped in the Great War, 1923]
THE war work of the MONAS QUEEN was confined to carrying troops across the Channel, generally between Southampton and Havre, she being chartered by the Government in March, 1915.
The work of adapting her for her new occupation was carried out at Douglas by the I.O.M. Steam Packet Companys employees. The distance she had to cover each trip was about double that between Liverpool and Douglas, but she was required to do this all the year round, and practically in all states of the weather.
Very successfully did she carry out her work, and she gained the good opinion of the Transport authorities during the four years that she was so employed.
I paid many visits to Southampton in connection with the Monas Queen, so had a good opportunity of seeing the work in which she was engaged.
In the early days of the war, the men returning from France on leave came aboard in all their mud and filth from the trenches, there being no opportunity of getting cleaned up before embarkation. It was a sight which called forth ones admiration,to see them arriving in the early morning, marching through Southampton before the people were astir. Very quiet and uncomplaining, and in good spirits.
When the boys from the United States began to come, later on, they seemed lonely. When speaking to some of them on one occasion, I mentioned the Isle of Man. At once they showed the greatest interest, and said "So and so in our Company came from there to the States about twelve years ago". They then insisted on going to find him, so that we might have a talk.
On another occasion when a company of three men were gathered together in the shed waiting to embark, a regiment of our own boys were also going in the same ship Plenty of good-natured fun was shown by our men as usual, when going on board ship. Their band was playing popular airs, and there were loud jests, but the Yankees maintained a gloomy silence, keeping to themselves. Then the band struck up "Way down upon the Swanee River" and the atmosphere was changed immediately, laughter and cheers were heard from all quarters, the ice being broken, and they were all companions in arms.
On February 6th, 1917, she left Southampton for Havre with over a thousand troops on board. It was a fine night and there was a full moon. At 11.15 p.m., when about twelve miles from Havre, and all seemed going well, the ship travelling at the rate of fifteen knots per hour [sic!], a large submarine was seen coming to the surface of the water about five hundred feet away, four points on the port bow. The Monas Queen went right on without reducing her speed or altering her course, and, when within about thirty feet of the submarine Captain Cain distinctly saw a torpedo discharged, which must have passed underneath his ship, for immediately afterwards he saw the track of it away to starboard.
In a few seconds after firing her torpedo, the submarine was buried in the port paddle-wheel, the steel floats of which must have struck her forward of the conning-tower, causing such damage that she immediately sank.
Those on the bridge of the Monas Queen obtained a view of the submarine, abaft the port paddle-box, disappearing below the surface of the water. bow first, her stern lifted well up, and her propellers revolving in the air.
The whole thing happened in less than half-a-minute, and called for a prompt decision on the part of the Captain, as to what action he should take. Fortunately, he decided to go straight ahead at full speed, which was the wisest thing to do.
Had he decided otherwise, there would have been quite a different tale to tell.
The effect on the Monas Queen was tremendous, and alarming, as she heeled over until her starboard paddle-box was nearly half submerged. In the engine-room, some idea of what happened may be formed, when it is remembered that the port paddlewheel with its shaft, weighing altogether more than thirty tons, was lifted to such an extent by the impact, that the cover of the outer bearing was smashed.
The paddlewheel, that thus disposed of the submarine, is twenty-five feet in diameter. Each of its ten floats consists of a steel plate, twelve feet by four feet, a full inch in thickness, and weighs, with its brackets, over a ton.
The Monas Queen was now in a semi-disabled condition, like a bird with only one wing to rely on. By working the engines slowly, however, they were able to creep into Havre and discharge their troops quite safely.
To effect the necessary repairs, it was decided to tow the ship to Southampton, and, after waiting several days for a tug boat, the return journey was commenced. It was soon realised, however, that the tug-boat was not powerful enough to tow the Monas Queen, particularly as the weather outside was bad.
It now became evident that they were in a very literal sense "between the devil and the deep sea." A decision had, therefore, to be made, and Captain Cain decided to try and struggle across without aid, depending entirely upon the crippled wheel holding out, the tugboat to accompany them so as to render assistance in case of a breakdown. There were, also, two destroyers as an escort to look out for submarines, which were to be expected.
Although going rather less than half-speed. the Monas Queen, despite the bad weather that prevailed, was able to keep well ahead of the tug, and shortly afterwards left her out of sight, arriving at Southampton before her. The homeward journey occupied eighteen-and-a-half hours, the usual length of passage being eight hours.
I awaited her arrival with some anxiety and went out in a motor-boat to meet her. On getting near enough, the "bumpaty bump" of the revolving broken wheel was distinctly heard. After going aboard, I was able to test whether the shaft, nineteen inches in diameter, was bent by the severe treatment that it had received, and was surprised to find that it was quite true.
The greatest praise is due to Captain Cain and the Chief Engineer, Mr. George Kenna (since deceased), for successfully bringing the ship across under such conditions. In addition to the danger of a complete breakdown, there was the risk of attack by submarines, which were no doubt in the neighbourhood.
When the ship was surveyed in the dry dock, there were clear indications, from the indented and grooved plates, that the submarine had scraped along the port side, before she was finally engulphed in the revolving wheel.
After the necessary repairs had been executed by Harland and Wolff, of Southampton, the Monas Queen resumed her war work on March 17th, 1917.
Another incident, worthy of note, was the towing of H.M.S.Hazard, January 28th, 1918. A collision had occurred between the S.S. Western Australia and the hospital ship, H.M.S. Hazard, the latter being very nearly cut in two. The Monas Queen, having sailed from Havre on January 27th, was fortunately on tht scene of the disaster just in time to take the sinking ship in tow. It soon became evident that the task was a hopeless one, the damage to the Hazard being so extensive. After being towed for a short time, she sank, the tow-rope parting as she went down. Fortunately there were no patients on board, and the crew was saved by vessels in the vicinity.
The Monas Queen continued in the Government service until Apiil, 1919, when she left Southampton for Birkenhead to be re-conditioned by Cammell, Laird and Co., and in the summer of 1920 resumed her work of carrying passengers to the Isle of Man. She is the last of the "Paddlers" in the Manx Fleet, and still maintains her excellent reputation for safety and comfort.
The Monas Queens engines are of the compound oscillating type, and are unique in their design. There are four cylinders, two high pressure 30 ins. diameter and two low pressure, 88 ins. diam , each with a stroke of six feet.