Falaba was a passenger ship for Liverpool’s Elder Dempster Shipping Ltd. She left Liverpool on 27 March 1915, bound for Sierra Leone. The following day Falaba was in St George’s Channel, between the Welsh and Irish coasts, when the ship was attacked and sunk by German submarine U-28. The sinking made headlines as it was the first unarmed passenger ship to be sunk by a German submarine during the First World War.
104 people died, including several West African crewmen. Elder Dempster employed many West African sailors on its ships sailing between Liverpool and West Africa. The Black seafarers on board were given the most dangerous jobs in the engine room; they were also paid less and received fewer rations.
Among the survivors was a Nigerian fireman called John Thomas who was able to identify the body of trimmer John Myers, also originally from Nigeria. John Myers was only 21 at the time of his death and was living in Liverpool. He is remembered, along with other Falaba victims, on the Tower Hill Memorial in London.
Elder Dempster lost 42 ships during the First World War and 420 employees lost their lives – 140 of these were Black seafarers. It is a reminder that many non-British merchant seafarers risked their lives to aid Britain’s war effort.