The Last Post of Dunluce Castle

For Game of Thrones fans, Dunluce Castle is a highlight of any Northern Ireland location tour. Perching precariously on the basalt outcrops of the Antrim coast, its dramatic situation, plus a touch of CGI, turned Dunluce Castle into Castle Pike, Seat of the House Greyjoy, in fictional Westeros.

For naval researchers, H.M.S. Dunluce Castle is a frequent posting on personnel records. As Scapa Flow depot ship, H.M.S. Dunluce Castle was tasked with a variety of roles; stores for the small ships of the Royal Naval Patrol Service, temporary accommodation for crews awaiting their next draft, mail sorting ship for the Home Fleet, submarine tender and a respite for survivors from the Arctic Convoys.

Dunluce Castle off Cape Town before WW1
Dunluce Castle raising steam off Cape Town prior to 1914

The 8114 tonnes Dunluce Castle was built in 1904 by Harland & Wolff yards in Belfast and joined the Union-Castle Line operating a fleet of passenger liners between Europe and Africa. They were well known for their lavender-hulls with red funnels and ran a rigid timetable delivering passengers and mail between Southampton and Cape Town until 1914

When war came, Dunluce Castle served as a troopship and took part in the famous six-ship Union-Castle convoy that brought 4,000 troops to Europe. The following year, she commissioned as a 755-bed Hospital Ship and saw service in the Gallipoli Campaign.

Soldiers line the deck of H.M.A.T. Dunluce Castle in Malta harbour 1915

There is an account (Document.6333 Catalogue date 1997-01) by Staff Sergeant Milburn RAMC describing an incident in the Mediterranean on 25 February 1917 when hospital ship H.M.S. Dunluce Castle, in which he served as an orderly, was forced to stop by a German submarine which fired several warning shots. Preparations were hastily made for abandoning the ship. However, Dunluce Castle was allowed to continue her passage to Gibraltar after the ship’s papers had been taken to the submarine for examination. 

By 1939 the Dunluce Castle had been sold for breaking up but rescued by the Admiralty and requisitioned as an accommodation ship, first serving on the River Humber and then with the Home Fleet at Scapa Flow.

H.M.S. Dunluce Castle in Scapa Flow, with submarine alongside
© IWM (FL 11017)

Lt. Commander James Allon remembers his experience of H.M.S. Dunluce Castle from the BBC’s WW2 People’s War:

‘I was on survivors’ leave until my next appointment. On the 15 August, I received orders to proceed to Scapa Flow to take command of the 14th A/S group of trawlers, guarding the entrance to Scapa Flow.

I arrived as ordered and found my office and quarters were on H.M.S. Dunluce Castle, which was anchored in the Flow. When the wife of one of the Skipper Lieutenants was taken ill, I sent him on leave and assumed command of his ship. The trawler was moored alongside H.M.S. Dunluce Castle.

The weather was, as usual, pretty bad. I was awakened by an unusual movement of the ship, got up, and, on going on deck, found we were adrift in Scapa Flow, which was full of anchored ships from destroyers and cruisers to battleships. It was a very unhappy situation to be in.

By now the officers and crew had been aroused and I gave orders for steam to be raised for the main engines and, awaiting this. I ordered the anchor to be dropped. This had the effect of stopping our drifting down the Flow. Once steam was raised for the main engines we upped anchor and steamed back to our berth alongside ‘Dunluce Castle’, made fast, and as far as I know, the question of our little voyage down Scapa Flow was never raised!

WW2 People’s War. Pub. 29 June 2004 | WW2 People’s War is an online archive of wartime memories contributed by members of the public and gathered by the BBC |’

Life on board H.M.S. Dunluce. Sailors read their Christmas mail in December 1941 | © IWM A 13325
Life on board H.M.S. Dunluce Castle. Sailors read their Christmas mail in December 1941
© IWM A 13325

H.M.S. Dunluce Castle was popular with ratings. As the main mail-sorting depot for the fleet, she distributed letters and cards from faraway families. As a submarine depot ship, her large mess-decks were a relief from the cramped conditions of the submarines and as an accommodation ship for anti-submarine trawlers and balloon ships, her cabins would be relatively ostentatious. For many, she was an opportunity to recover from the trauma of the sinking.

‘I was rung up by the Admiralty and told to join H.M.S. Nestor at Scapa Flow forthwith. I packed my kit and got a train going to Thurso. After a long and tedious journey, I eventually arrived and got a boat to Scapa Flow. By this time I had discovered that the Nestor was, in fact, an Australian destroyer.

When I arrived on board I was net by a fair-haired Lieutenant. I asked if I could see the Captain and he replied that unfortunately, the Captain was under close arrest in H.M.S. Dunluce Castle. I then asked to see the First Lieutenant, to which he replied that he also was under close arrest. I then asked what on earth was going on in this ship.

He explained that both the Captain and First Lieutenant were in the habit of drinking to excess until finally when ordered to sea, the Ship’s Company refused to move. In other words, there had been a kind of mutiny.’ Extract from ‘A Naval Career‘ by George Crogiley

On June 5th, 1945, H.M.S. Dunluce Castle left her berth in Gutter Sound, Scapa Flow and, under her own steam, sailed for Rosyth for paying off. She was finally broken up at Inverkeithing later that year.

A Destroyer’s postman brings mail on board H.M.S. Dunluce Castle
© IWM (A 13322)

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