Charles Fryatt exhibition at the Masonic Hall in Harwich

Friday, 22 July 2016

Former Harwich Freemason to be commemorated

Charles Algernon Fryatt was born in Southampton in 1871 and followed his father by becoming a merchant mariner in the employment of the Great Eastern Railway Company when the family moved to Harwich in Essex in the late 1880’s, from where GER operated a ferry service to the Continent.

The young Fryatt joined the Company as an Able Seaman in 1892 and worked his way up through the grades to become a Master in 1913, but it was in May 1906 that, as a First Mate, he was initiated in to the Star in the East Lodge No. 650 of the Freemasons in his home town of Harwich.

The GER continued to operate ferry services to Holland during the whole of the Great War, throughout which the Masters were regularly at the mercy of the German Imperial Navy. It was in February 1915, just two days after the start of the German U-boat campaign, that, whilst in Command of the Colchester, Fryatt had his first encounter with a U-boat but made an easy escape. In early March, this time whilst in command of the Wrexham, he encountered a further U-boat, but this time he had only a narrowly escaped capture by out-running the U-boat. But it was in late March 1915 that he had his most famous encounter, with U-33 whilst in command of the Brussels.

On this occasion, Fryatt, following instructions from the then First Lord of the Admiralty, one Winston Churchill, attempted to ram the U-boat, forcing it to crash dive and, thereby, enabling Fryatt to make an escape. The Germans were not to forget this and, in June 1916, they captured him and the Brussels at the start of a return voyage he was making from Hoek van Holland with foodstuffs and Belgian refugees. He, and many of his crew, were then sent to a concentration camp in Ruhleben, to the west of Berlin but, before long, he was sent back to Bruges to be court martialled as a franc tireur, sentenced to death and executed at 7.00pm the same day, 27th July 1916.

His execution caused outrage among the allied nations, who described it as judicial murder. Feelings about this remained so strong following the war that a campaign was launched to have his remains repatriated, and this was completed in July 1919 in a series of six ceremonies in Bruges, Antwerp, Dover, London, and Harwich, where his remains were reburied. A year later, a further ceremony was held in Harwich for the unveiling of a tombstone above his grave.

As July this year will see be the centenary of Fryatt’s death, a special exhibition is being held in the Masonic Hall in Harwich, where Fryatt was a member, and will run for nine days, from Saturday 23rd July to Sunday 31st July, and will be open from 10.00am to 6.00pm every day (the centenary itself will be on the intermediate Wednesday).

Through a series of displays, the exhibition will tell the whole story of who Captain Fryatt was, how he came to be executed, and the events that followed. It will be copiously illustrated with photographs and other documents from the time as well as featuring the largest display of Fryatt related artefacts ever assembled, these having been brought together from a number of collectors from around the country. Anyone wishing to visit the exhibition and see for themselves the wonderful array of items there gathered may find further details on the Historico web site at, where tickets may also be purchased.


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