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John Oxley Library

Stanley McDonald, SS Celtic

By Marg Powell, Specialist Library Technician, Metadata Services | 11 July 2015

Let us tell you about a merchant seaman, Stanley Angus McDonald. His portrait was found in what appears to be an unrelated collection, but his story, like any other who served during the First World War is more than worthy of our attention.

Stanley Angus McDonald

Stanley Angus McDonald, 3072 Caldwell Family papers and photographs, State Library of Queensland

He was born in Harrisville in 1890, a small town in the Scenic Rim district, south of Brisbane. Stanley served as Senior Engineer on the Steam Ship Celtic, which at the time of its launch in 1901 was the largest steamship in the world, it was a sister ship to the ill-fated SS Titanic. It had several mishaps during its lifetime, but the one that occurred in March 1918 was catastrophic for the McDonald family.

SS Celtic in the ship yards, Belfast

R.M.S. Celtic (II). Image courtesy Wikimedia Commons

Requisitioned in 1914 by the Royal Navy, RMS Celtic was first converted to an armed merchant cruiser and subsequently as a troop ship. The Celtic was now a target and vulnerable to attack from either above or below, she was first struck by a mine in 1917 near the Isle of Man.

Interior of first-class library, SS Celtic

Interior of the first-class library, SS Celtic. Image: Ulster Folk & Transport Museum

In March 1918 she was again targeted and was torpedoed by a German submarine the SM UB-77 whilst crossing the Irish Sea. The damage caused her to falter, and after a second torpedo to the bow, she was beached. Unfortunately six lives were lost during this incident, including that of Stanley McDonald, who as Engineer was trying to save the vessel, but drowned in the attempt.

Commemorative page, Royal British Legion

Image courtesy Royal British Legion. 

His widowed mother Minnie McDonald resided in Indooroopilly, Brisbane, and with her oldest son Henry and daughters Dorothy, Gladys and Marjorie, must have always wondered if his life at sea would end this way.

The other souls who died alongside Stanley McDonald were:

A touching memorial note was published in the Brisbane Courier, ten days after the disaster. It reads in part "A tribute of love to the memory of Stanley A. McDonald, Engineer, SS Celtic, who gave his life for his country, March 31st 1918, age 20 years and 7 months."

Belfast City Cemetery

Belfast City Cemetery. Image courtesy Commonwealth War Graves Commission.

The ship was refitted and returned to service, Engineer McDonald and his comrades were buried in Belfast City Cemetery, Northern Ireland.

Stanley McDonald not only left his mother and siblings in Australia but a wife and possibly family in England. Records show that he married in 1909 at Tynemouth, England. Other sources mention Catherine Elizabeth Postlethwaite as his widow, did he also leave behind children?

Headstones at Belfast City Cemetery commemorating the lives lost on SS Celtic in March 1918

Merchant Seaman Stanley Angus McDonald is remembered virtually by the Royal British Legion, and at the Australian War Memorial on the Commemorative Roll, which recognises those who died during or as a result of wars in which Australians served, but were not serving in the Australian Armed Forces.

It is hoped that by revealing Stanley McDonald's story, that family members who may be scattered around the globe will find solace in the fact that he is remembered, and now have access to an image of him to cherish.

Many thanks to Peter Hamilton, guest researcher & Q ANZAC 100 Volunteer

Further reading:


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