WATCH: Memorial unveiled in Unst for 31 submariners killed in 1917

The Royal Naval personnel with descendents of the officers lost on the E49, Anthony Beal (far left) and Nicola Hughes (far right). Photo: Desley Stickle

Descendants of two of the men killed when a First World War submarine blew up off Unst have described how they were both honoured and overwhelmed by the unveiling of a memorial to the disaster on Sunday.

HMS E49 was five minutes out of Baltasound on 12th March 1917 when she hit a German mine and exploded, killing all her crew of 31.

First officer Basil Beal’s great nephew Anthony Beal and second-in-command Ray Parkinson’s grand-daughter Nicola Hughes were among a large crowd at Hamar, overlooking the water where the incident occurred, both making their first ever trips to Shetland.



The commemoration, on the exact centenary, came about through the efforts of former Unst policeman Harry Edwards, who some years ago hit upon the idea of a memorial and set about contacting relatives of those who died.

Sunday’s ceremony began with former Anderson High School head teacher George Jamieson, an Unst man himself, telling the story of the disaster. The unveiling of the memorial was carried out by submariners from HMS Vengeance, based in Faslane.

After the unveiling, Gordon Thomson read out the names of all 31 men who died and Lance Corp James Trowbridge, a bugler from MoD Caledonia in Rosyth, played The Last Post and Reveille.

Wreaths were laid by the Royal Navy, Gary Irvine on behalf of the TA, SIC convener Malcolm Bell, Lord Lieutenant Bobby Hunter and Mr Edwards, while Unst minister the Rev David Cooper blessed the memorial.


It didn’t really hit us till we got here what he had achieved and we’re very grateful to Harry for that, and for meeting Nicola as well. It was a real ‘hair on your neck’ moment when we got to the hill overlooking Baltasound.


Among the crowd were crew members of the Lerwick lifeboat Michael and Jane Vernon, which travelled up specially for the day.

Following lunch at the Baltasound hall, the relatives of the crew both described the emotions they felt after being invited to the ceremony.

Mr Beal said: “I was well aware that the 100th anniversary was coming up. I thought of travelling independently, as I had never visited Shetland before, and then Harry rang us out of the blue with his invitation.

“We decided straight away that we would like to come. It didn’t really hit us till we got here what he had achieved and we’re very grateful to Harry for that, and for meeting Nicola as well.

“It was a real ‘hair on your neck’ moment when we got to the hill overlooking Baltasound. I saw a letter written by somebody who had spoken to the crew five minutes before they left Baltasound. That really brought it home to me, just the thought that someone could have spoken to them five minutes before the explosion.”

The memoral to HMS E49. Photo: Desley Stickle

Mrs Hughes said her brother had heard from Mr Edwards first and he told her there was going to be a commemoration service.

She said: “My husband and I decided that we really wanted to be part of it. We are particularly pleased that we did.

“I’m quite overwhelmed by this and the fact that everybody has contributed freely of their time.”

“This [seemed] remote to us, my brother and sister, as we grew up. But coming up here and finding out about the E49 and the tragedy has made the whole thing come to life.”

Mr Edwards said one of the things that inspired him was finding out that one of the crew, Henry Victor Arm from Portsmouth, was just 16 years old.


• For full story see The Shetland Times on Friday.


Add Your Comment
  • Karen Kelly

    • March 14th, 2017 19:12

    Hi there my great uncle jerimiah Sullivan was lost on the E49 sub is he listed?

    • Alastair Edwards

      • March 20th, 2017 8:40

      Yes, he’s there, second from last on the list – stoker.

    • Helen O’Keeffe

      • November 30th, 2020 12:21

      Hi Karen,
      Jeremiah Sullivan was also my great grand uncle. I live in the little fishing village of Schull in West Cork, Ireland that Jeremiah left to go to war when he was 19 years old. I would love to talk some more.

      Helen O’Keeffe

      • Karen kelly

        • October 26th, 2021 17:32

        Hi Helen you can WhatsApp me on 07974727453 or email me on Im sure we have a photo ofJerimia 🙂

      • Lewis John Patrick Sullivan

        • October 27th, 2021 18:08

        What a mad turn of events. I’m currently completing my family tree and have discovered Jeremiah is my first cousin 4x removed.

        His grandparents Patrick Sullivan and Anne Mahony are my 4x great grandparents.

  • Lynne Jeffreys

    • March 30th, 2017 20:46

    Thank you to Harold Edwards and all those who helped commemorate this tragic lost. Francis Cartland was our 1st cousin 2X removed and until Mr. Edwards contacted me I had no idea of this horrible loss. I
    wished I would have been able to come but I’m glad I now have a memory. Lynne Jeffreys

  • Thomas Miller

    • October 28th, 2017 23:22

    I give thanks for my own life, the freedom gifted to me, and the countless other lives saved by the commitment and dedication of these persons that lost theirs, unknown to me and mine, and all that served to defeat our foe.

  • Karen Kelly

    • October 28th, 2021 7:14

    I have a photo of Jeremiah O’Sullivan is there any where I can send it to ?


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