First published in “Rye’s Own” August 2001
History Under the Hammer – Rye Auction Galleries
The story of Commander Frank Claret told in photographs, ship reports,
newspaper clippings, telegraphs, letters and ships papers reflecting
the eventful life of a British transatlantic liner Captain both before
and after the First World War and of his exploits as a wartime merchant
navy Skipper when his ship, the Minnehaha, was fitted with a four
inch gun and used to transport arms and munitions across the Atlantic.
52 times he navigated the Minnehaha without escort across the dangerous waters of the North Atlantic, mainly from Halifax, Nova Scotia to Liverpool. The 53rd. time proved unlucky. A German submarine caught her with a single torpedo in the Irish Sea, the ship sank within six minutes taking 45 men to the bottom. Captain Frank Claret stayed on the bridge as she went under, he was lifted off by his life jacket and rose to the surface. Here he organised the survivors – they clung to pieces of wreckage until they were rescued over an hour later. 110 men were saved.
Photographs from the pre-first war period depict many different ships and the personalities that sailed on them. There is even a picture of of Titanic’s sister ship Ocenanic taken at sea c.1910. This was a couple of years before Titanic’s tragic maiden voyage.
Post War adventures, now in command of the brand new Transport Liner S.S. Minnewaska, include caring the 1925 British Schnieder Cup Team to America; the rescue of Courtney the transatlantic flyer and three members of his crew who had been adrift in mid Atlantic for three days after their seaplane was forced down by fire; and the difficulties encountered when the ship was forced to ride out a hurricane. Countless celebrities were carried on the luxury liner and many are pictured in the collection.
Commander Frank H. Claret O.B.E. retired from the sea in 1935 when his fine ship, only eleven years old, was broken up for scrap. The larger and faster ocean liners like the Queen Mary had made her obsolete before her time. Commander Claret died in 1946.