Captain Fryatt was a civilian, in command of passenger ferries in the perilous waters between Britain and the Netherlands during the Great War. With U-Boats patrolling the Channel and regarding civilian shipping as fair game, it was no longer clear what the rules of engagement were, but unlike the enemy, Captain Fryatt conducted himself with courage and honour to the end.
ON July 27th, 1916, Captain Charles Fryatt, a civilian, was brought before a German military court in Bruges.
Entered into evidence were two gold watches presented to the captain by his employers, the Great Central Railway and the Great Eastern. One commemorated the occasion on March 3rd, 1915, when under Fryatt’s command SS Wrexham escaped the clutches of a U-Boat in a breathless pursuit over forty nautical miles. The other acknowledged his courage three weeks later, when SS Brussels had rushed at U-33 rather than surrender.* The Germans finally caught up with Fryatt on June 25th, 1916, and took no chances. Five destroyers escorted his little ferry to Zeebrugge.
Fryatt was found guilty of abusing his position as a non-combatant — by the Government whose torpedo-laden submarines had been chivvying his civilian ferries all over the Channel — and immediately shot. The proceedings were denounced as murder in Britain and across the civilised world, and Fryatt was posthumously awarded Belgium’s highest honour, the Order of Leopold.
* A Dutch newspaper reported that Fryatt had been charged with sinking the U-33, though the Germans knew fine well that it was now plying its ugly trade in the Aegean. In fact, he had only forced it to crash dive.