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Where Once They Sailed: George Stringer among first NL casualties of Great War

Seaman George Stringer, born in 1895, was the oldest son of William Thomas and Mary Ann Stringer.
Seaman George Stringer, born in 1895, was the oldest son of William Thomas and Mary Ann Stringer.

By Lester Green, Special To The Packet

George Stringer was born Jan. 4, 1895, at Little Heart's Ease in an area locally known as The Bottom.

He was firstborn son of William Thomas and Mary Ann Stringer, and he had 11 siblings.

Born in a fishing/logging community, he spent his early teenage years helping his family make a living from the surrounding natural resources.

HMS Viknor.

Royal Naval Reserve records located at the Provincial Archives, St. John's, revealed Seaman Stringer was assigned reservist number 1259X.

He listed his birthdate as Jan. 4, 1894 but church records indicate a birthdate of Jan. 4, 1895, making him one year older. He enlisted on Nov. 25, 1913, and completed basic training aboard the HMS Calypso.

During November and December of 1913, he completed 28 days of competency test in firing the big guns, rifle and the canon tube. He received orders by Royal Proclamation on Aug. 3, 1914, and reported immediately to St. John's for active duty.  

He completed additional training at HMS Calypso and sailed overseas aboard the S.S. Franconia on Nov. 6, 1914, to HMS Excellent naval base, a shore based structure and gunnery school at Portsmouth, England.

He served approximately one month at this base and was assigned duty aboard HMS Viknor on Dec. 14, 1914. The ship was requisitioned by the British Admiralty from the Viking Cruise Line, retrofitted as an armed merchant cruiser and assigned to the 10th Cruiser Squadron.

The Viknor patrolled the waters of Northern Atlantic between Scotland and Iceland enforcing an embargo to prevent trade to and from Germany.

The Evening Telegram reported the loss of the Viknor in its Feb 3, 1915, edition.

Seaman Stringer was onboard the HMS Viknor when it left Portsmouth and headed out for patrol on the dreadful day of Jan. 13, 1915. The ship was in radio contact with the base at time she disappeared off the Tory Islands.

The ship did not send a distress call but reported that they were fighting heavy seas. It is commonly believed the ship struck a minefield that had been recently laid by a German U-boat and sank immediately.

All 295 sailors onboard were lost to the frigid waters of the North Atlantic. Among them were 25 Newfoundlanders from the Royal Naval Reserve.

They became the first military causalities of the Great War for the people of Newfoundland and are commemorated at Beaumont Hamel Memorial in France.

Thirteen days after the sinking the Evening Telegram reported the news about this tragedy. The story began: "The Viknor has been missing for some days and it must now be accepted that she is lost with all her officers and men."

For his family and the people of the Southwest Arm region, the news was appalling, the reality of war had finally reached the shores.

Seaman George Stringer had laid down his life in the service of King and Country. The family received a scroll, medallion and letter from King George in memory of the life given by their son.

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