English VC winner buried in Cobh honoured in London centenary ceremony

Capt Frederick Parslow died while trying to evade U-boat off Cork coast in 1915

Capt Frederick Parslow  perished when his merchant ship, Anglo-Californian, was shelled by a German U-39 submarine off the south coast of Ireland in 1915.

Capt Frederick Parslow perished when his merchant ship, Anglo-Californian, was shelled by a German U-39 submarine off the south coast of Ireland in 1915.


A British sea captain who was awarded the Victoria Cross for his bravery on board his ship off the Irish coast during the first World War has been remembered with a ceremony in London. Capt Frederick Parslow (59), who is buried in Cobh, perished when his unarmed merchant ship, Anglo-Californian, was shelled by a German submarine (U-39) off the south coast of Ireland on July 4th, 1915.

The tragic events were remembered on Saturday at a special ceremony with the unveiling of a memorial stone in Islington in north London, where Capt Parslow was born in 1856. The memorial paving stone, which bears the Merchant Navy colours, were unveiled at a public ceremony at the war memorial at Islington Green attended by Royal Navy top brass.

According to historian Prof Ged Martin, Capt Parslow and 33 of his crew were killed in the attack which came just a few weeks after the sinking of the RMS Lusitania off Cork. The Anglo-Californian was bringing more than 900 horses from Montreal to Avonmouth for the Western Front when it was attacked by a U-39 some 90 miles off Queenstown, now Cobh.

To conserve torpedoes, Capt Walter Forstmann of the U-39 surfaced and began firing at the merchant ship with the submarine’s deck gun as it closed in on its target. “After an hour and a half under attack, Capt Parslow obeyed enemy instructions to stop engines so that the crew could abandon ship,” said Prof Martin, adjunct professsor at NUIG. “However, he received a wireless message telling him that British destroyers were on their way from the Royal Navy base at Queenstown and urging him to await their arrival.”

Prof Martin revealed that Parslow restarted his engines to escape, trying to keep his Anglo-Californian end-on to the U-boat which was steadily closing in on the merchant ship. However, the U-boat continued firing and at about 11am, Capt Parslow was killed by a direct hit on the bridge while some 33 of his crew were also killed in the German attack.

“The destroyers arrived soon after but U-39 dived to escape,” said Prof Martin. The badly damaged Anglo-Californian was taken under tow into Queenstown. “Coming just weeks after 1,198 people died in the sinking of the Lusitania in the same water, any strategy to entrap a marauding submarine like U-39 seemed worth the cost,” he said.

“Officially, Frederick Parslow was not eligible for the Victoria Cross, Britain’s highest award for bravery, as this was conferred upon members of the armed forces and he was a civilian, but in an unusual gesture, Parslow was retrospectively commissioned as a lieutenant in the Britain’s Royal Naval Reserve, and then awarded a posthumous Victoria Cross,” he said.

Prof Martin said the citation praised Capt Parslow’s “magnificent heroism” and the VC insignia is carved into his headstone at the Old Church Cemetery in Cobh, where he is buried.