Military unit: Mercantile Marine, HMHS Salta
Date & place of birth: 3 June 1880 at Islington, London
Date & place of death: 10 April 1917, aged 36, off the coast of Le Havre, Northern France
Charles Haley was a steward on board the hospital ship, HMHS Salta when she hit a mine on the approach to Le Havre.
Charles Thomas Haley was born at 11 Rydon Street, Islington in London on 3 June 1880. He was the second child born to Henry Libbey Haley (1850–1920) and his wife, Ellen née Tutthill (1847–1896).
Henry Libbey Haley was born in Truro, Cornwall but by the time of the 1871 census he was living in Farringdon, London where he was employed as a messenger with the General Post Office. On 27 September 1874, aged 24, he married 27-year old Ellen Tutthill at St John the Baptist Church in Kentish Town.
The couple’s first child, Ada was born on 25 October 1877, followed by Charles three years later. Charles was baptised at St James’ Church, Islington on 25 July 1880.
At the 1881 census, Henry and Ellen, and their two children were living at 11 Rydon Street, Islington; 31-year old Henry was still employed as a Post Office messenger.
At some time in the 1880s, the family moved to Southampton and at the 1891 census, they were living at 8 Vulcan Terrace, off Millbrook Road, Southampton, where Henry was employed as a tallow chandler (a candle maker).
Charles’s mother, Ellen died on 30 August 1896, aged 49, from phthisis (pulmonary tuberculosis), leaving Henry to support his two teenage children.
At the 1901 census, Henry and Charles were living at 38 Cossack Street, in the Kingsland area of Southampton. Henry was still working as a tallow chandler while 20-year old Charles was employed as a ship’s steward. At the time of the census, Ada was recorded as a visitor at the home of Albert and Jane Woodruffe at The New Inn in Downton near Salisbury.
Two years later, in 1903, Ada married Charles Gammie. At the 1911 census, she and Charles were living at 17 Mansion Road, Freemantle, Southampton where Charles was employed as a dredger on the construction of a new dock in the port. Living with them was 61-year old Henry Haley, still working as a tallow chandler. Also living with them was Mark Earl, a Wesleyan Methodist Minister, and 23-year old Blanche Mary Brownen, described as “disengaged”. Charles Haley was not recorded on the 1911 census (presumably he was at sea).
On 10 May 1911, 31-year old Charles and 24-year old Blanche were married at St Thomas’s Church in Fair Oak. Blanche had been born in Wootton, near Lymington, the daughter of Walter Brownen, who was now a coachman employed by Bertha MacBean, a wealthy widow of Oak Grove, Bishopstoke.
On 7 February 1916, Charles and Blanche’s daughter, Brenda Nancy was born at the family home at “Ridgewood”, King Edward Avenue in Shirley, Southampton.
Charles Haley was initiated into Southampton’s Lodge of Peace and Harmony No 359 on 17 July 1916, aged 36. His duties with the Merchant Navy prevented him from making further Masonic progress before his death the following year.
During the First World War, Lodge of Peace and Harmony was very busy, with eleven brethren being initiated in both 1915 and 1916. Of these brethren, most were members of the merchant marine or the Royal Navy, with 14 mariners being initiated in those two years. Among them was 23-year old Thomas Keith Garrard, from Bexhill in Sussex, who was initiated on 19 July 1915. Garrard was described in the Lodge records as an “Officer on H.M.S. Salta” (Charles Haley was killed when the Salta hit a mine in April 1917).
Service in the Merchant Navy
The details of Charles Haley’s service in the Merchant Navy are rather sparse.
In July 1904, he joined the crew of the Union Castle Line’s RMS Durham Castle as a storekeeper, having previously been on the same shipping company’s RMS Dunvegan Castle.
Between November 1906 and May 1907, he was employed as a storekeeper on the Union Castle Line’s RMS Kinfauns Castle, sailing between England and South Africa.
Death and commemoration
In April 1917, Charles Haley was serving as a steward on board His Majesty’s Hospital Ship Salta.
The Salta was a 7,285 ton steamship which had been built in 1911 for the Société Générale des Transports Maritimes à Vapeur (known as the “Talabot Company” after its founder, Paulin Talabot). In February 1915, she was chartered by the Admiralty and converted into a hospital ship as HMHS Salta. She was operated on the Admiralty’s behalf by Union-Castle Mail Steamship Ltd.
Early on the morning of 10 April 1917, Salta (under the command of 62-year old Captain Benjamin Thomas Eastaway from Liverpool), together with other hospital ships Lanfranc and Western Australia, steamed with an escort of destroyers from Southampton to Le Havre to collect wounded soldiers and transport them back to England. Later that morning, a French patrol boat found mines drifting in the Le Havre approaches; the mines had been laid the previous day by the German mine-laying submarine UC 26.
At 11:20 a.m., Salta approached the port entrance and stopped engines. A patrol craft instructed the convoy to follow it towards the English drifter Diamond, where the identity of each ship was confirmed before the barrage was opened to let the convoy pass into the port. Instead of keeping to the marked channel into the port, Captain Eastaway gave orders to alter course to the north, ignoring frantic signals from Diamond warning him that he was nearing the area where mines had been spotted earlier. One of the Salta‘s surviving officers reported that Eastaway was concerned about entering Le Havre without a pilot because of the bad weather and had wanted to let the other ships pass.
Realising that his ship was in grave danger, Eastaway tried to re-trace his course back to the buoyed channel. In poor weather conditions, Salta drifted across the mined zone and hit a mine at 11:43 a.m. An enormous explosion breached the hull near the engine room and hold number three. Water engulfed the disabled ship, which listed to starboard and sank in nine minutes, ½ mile north of the Whistle Buoy.
Despite help arriving rapidly, the state of the sea and the strong winds hampered the rescue operation and the human cost was appalling. Of the 205 passengers and crew members, nine nurses, 42 member of the Royal Army Medical Corps (RAMC) and 79 crew were killed. The British patrol boat HMS P-26 attempted to come alongside to assist, but also struck a mine and sank, with the loss of a further 19 men.
A fellow steward, Fredrick Richardson reported to the Admiralty on the sinking and his rescue from the sea after 1½ hours in the sea clinging to a spar. Richardson’s report refers to him receiving treatment for his injuries, after which:
During the evening the Chief Officer & I were asked to go to the Mortuary to identify our men. I discovered that Young, Lucas, Baker & Taylor from my Dept. were there, and 9 others, the Captain, Engineer, & 7 men of the Deck & Engine Room Dept.
I made enquiries respecting Mr. Haley the 2nd. Steward, but none of the survivors saw anything of him.
Eventually, 24 bodies were recovered from the sea and buried in the Sainte Marie Cemetery at Le Havre, where there is also a memorial to the soldiers, nurses and merchant seamen lost from the Salta whose bodies were not recovered, and those lost in the sinking of the hospital ship Galeka (mined on 28 October 1916) and the transport ship Normandy (torpedoed on 25 January 1918), whose graves are not known.
Charles Haley is also commemorated on the Cenotaph in Southampton’s Watts (West) Park.
Charles was posthumously awarded the Mercantile Marine Medal and the British War Medal.
HMHS Lanfranc, which accompanied Salta when she arrived at Le Havre on 10 April 1917, was hit by a torpedo a week later when she was transporting patients (including several German prisoners) back to Southampton. 22 British, including two officers, and 18 German other ranks were lost.
Charles’s widow, Blanche, never re-married. At the time of the 1939 Register, she was living with her daughter, Brenda at Buller Road in Bitterne, Southampton. She died on 2 July 1963, aged 76 in Wilton, Wiltshire, although her home was at Lackford Avenue, Totton.
Their daughter, Brenda married Henry Ronald Lawson in 1944. Henry died in 1949 and Brenda died two years later.
Charles’s sister, Ada and her husband Charles Thomas Gammie had one daughter, Ella Forsythe, who was born in 1916. She married William Burrows in 1938, and died in 1961. The couple had two children, still living.
1881 England Census
1891 England Census
1901 England Census
1911 England Census
1939 England and Wales Register
London, England, Church of England Births and Baptisms, 1813-1906
United Grand Lodge of England Freemason Membership Records, 1751–1921
WWI Pension Ledgers and Index Cards, 1914-1923
B & C Staff Register:
Crew List Index Project: Seafarers whose surname is HALEY, forename C.
CWGC Casualty Details: 2nd Steward Haley, Charles Thomas
Findagrave.com: 2nd Stwd Charles Thomas Haley
Great War Forum:
Masonic Roll of Honour: Steward Charles Thomas Haley
The National Archives:
Southampton Cenotaph: Charles Thomas Haley
Wrecksite: Charles Thomas Haley
Further reading on HMHS Salta
Following the Twenty-Second: 10th Apr 1917: Hospital Ship HMHS ‘Salta’ sunk with loss of 130 lives.
The Masonic Great War Project: HMHS Salta
Naval History: The Sinking of Hospital Ships
U-boat.net: Hospital Ship Salta
Wikipedia: HMHS Salta
Wrecksite: HMHS Salta [+1917]
WW1 – The Medical Front: List of Hospital Ships Destroyed by Submarines or Mines
RMS Kinfauns Castle: Roll of Honour
HMHS Salta: B & C Staff Register
The Salta Memorial: WW1 Remembrance 1914-1918