William M Steel
Master Mariner, SS Ruysdael, Mercantile Marine
Born June 1882 in Robin Hood’s Bay, Whitby, North Yorkshire
Killed in Action on 7 September 1918 when his ship was sunk by a U Boat west of Ireland
Remembered with Honour on the Tower Hill Memorial, London
William Steel was the husband of Ellen Steel (nee Gibson). They married in Scarborough in 1907 and had four sons, the youngest of whom was a year old when his father was lost. William’s father John was a sea Captain and grandfather William, a Master Mariner, had married Fanny Storm, a member of a Robin Hood’s Bay family of seafarers that can be traced back to the 17th century and beyond.
The 1891 Census reveals that 9 Year old William was living at Jubilee Terrace, Scalby, with his mother and siblings. Most likely his father was away at sea. 11 year old Ellen Gibson lived four doors away with her family. By the time of the 1901 Census the Steel and Gibson families were living in Field Close, Scalby, though William was probably away at sea. In 1911 Ellen was living on Station Lane, Scalby, with two children: John and William. Her sister Elizabeth lived with her as a companion. Ellen’s address at the time of her husband’s death was ‘Oakroyd’, Station Lane, Scalby. His parents lived nearby at The Park, Scalby.
In March 1903 William gained his Certificate of Competency as Second Mate of a foreign-going ship. He gained his Certificate of Competency as First Mate in November 1904.
During the 1914-18 War Britain relied heavily on the Merchant Navy for food and other supplies. Inevitably the Germans targeted merchant shipping and the casualties were very high. William’s nephew, Nathan Hewson Steel, a Steward on the SS Bagdale of Whitby died when his ship was sunk by a U-boat on 1 May 1917. William was also exposed to the dangers of the U-boat threat. Indeed, when news of his death was reported by The Scarborough Mercury of Friday 20 September 1918 the piece was headed, Torpedoed the Third and Last Time. News has been received that Captain Steel, of the merchant marine, was drowned last week in the torpedoing of his vessel. Deceased, who with the family had been associated with Scalby for many years, was the son of Captain John Steel of The Park, Scalby, who recently retired after a strenuous and eventful life of seamanship. Captain Steel, the son, who has now paid the penalty of devotion to duty despite the underwater frightfulness of the Hun, leaves a widow and four children, who live at Station Lane, Scalby. Twice before he had been torpedoed and survived.
‘Ruysdael’ was a defensively armed merchant ship. She was torpedoed without warning and was sunk on 7 September 1918 by the U-boat 105 (Friedrich Strackerjan). The ship was on a voyage from Barry to Taranto with a cargo of coal. She was sunk 228 miles west of Ushant. 12 people were lost.
Exactly a week later tragedy struck the family again when William’s uncle, First Mate William Steel, father of Nathan Steel, was lost at sea when the SS Gibel Hamam was torpedoed near Gibraltar. He too is commemorated on the Tower Hill Memorial.
William Steel was awarded the Mercantile Marine Medal and British Medal. They were issued on 25 April 1922 and sent to his wife at her home on Station Road, Scalby.