The Unsinkable

Major Charles A. Low
146th (Frontenac County) BattalionLow

Everybody aboard was preparing to leave the ship and glad that the journey was over, as the constant rumors of submarines and the nervous strain which is associated with same is not conductive to comfortable feelings.

At exactly 10.51, while in my cabin, the ship was hit on the starboard side, at the after well deck, close to the engine rooms. I was thrown across the cabin; there was no mistaking what had happened…

(Low to Kemp, 27 Mar 1918)

A native of Kingston, Ontario, Charles Adamson Low was born on 26 November 1874. A fourteen-year member of the 14th Princess of Wales’ Own Rifles, Low enlisted as junior major in Lieutenant Colonel W. G. Ketcheson’s 80th Battalion. In November 1915, he was authorized to raise the 146th Battalion from Frontenac County.

146thAfter his battalion was absorbed into the reserves in October 1916, Low transferred to the Forestry Corps in France. While managing the overseas Unionist election campaign in December 1917, he was assigned by General Alexander MacDougall to undertake an important mission in the Mediterranean. His task was to investigate the quality of Cyprus timber for the British campaigns in Egypt and Salonika.

While en route, a German U-Boat torpedoed Low’s transport ship, HMT Aragon off the Egyptian coast on 30 December 1917. Emerging on the wrecked upper deck, Low witnessed “about fifty men floating in the water, many of them past recall and badly mutilated from the effects of the explosion.”

The scene is beyond description. The thoughts that crowded into a man’s mind were whether the ship would make an instant plunge and carry us all down, or the possibilities of the boilers blowing up. As the boats were lowered, one felt then, more than any other time in his life, a great pride in the men of British stock. The men stood under perfect discipline, singing, although it was apparent at this time that the ship had but a few minutes to live.

The ship’s captain initially made an order not to abandon ship but Low recognized the Aragon was doomed and jumped into the water. Minutes later the ship went down; its suction dragging scores to their deaths. Over six-hundred passengers, troops and crew, including the captain, drowned.

Low and the survivors were picked up by an escort destroyer, which was also sunk shortly thereafter. While helping a terrified soldier from the water, Low described how “the ship was hit by a torpedo, cutting her in two.” After hours in the water Low and the remaining survivors were finally rescued by a trawler and taken to Alexandria, Egypt. As Low later reported, “Hundreds of cases of heroism, rescue and narrow escapes were crowded into those minutes.”

Two months later, Low resumed his trip to Cyprus and made a favourable report of timber usage on the island. Describing the return to England he remarked, “The journey back was uneventful.”

Low died on 27 June 1941.

Aragon

HMT Aragon (Wiki Commons)

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