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"Here she comes!"
A thunderous explosion followed the terrible warning and people fell. Some rose up only to fall again, hurt, concussed. The ship swung this way and that and its motors died. Only a few had seen the torpedo racing towards them but all on board knew what had happened. In the ensuing hush, passengers moved, adjusting lifebelts. It was 11 am, 6th November 1916. The P&O Steamship Arabia had been sliding through a glass-like sea as passengers revelled in Mediterranean sunshine and stewards distributed pre-lunch bowls of beef soup.

Australian newspapers vented their fury,

"R.M.S ARABIA SUB-MARINED. German outrage in Mediterranean... 187 Australians had joined the P&O Liner Arabia (8000 tons) at Australian ports. She had made three return voyages U.K/Australia in 1915-16 and had avoided two submarine attacks but on this voyage to England she was torpedoed when 300 miles from Malta."

Perth's Daily News noted,

"Only on Tuesday a Perth friend received a letter from Mrs Paula Scotland on board the Arabia. Formerly on the Children's Hospital staff, this very well-known nurse had written, `things are becoming exciting... We have to go through boat drill each day, and wear our cork belts day and night, even baby Norah, aged 9 months'. Mrs Scotland had been married in 1915 just prior to her husband, Lieut. Tom Scotland, sailing to Egypt with the 10th Light Horse Regiment. He was invalided to England, and cabled out asking his wife to come by the next boat, and, of course, bring their baby Norah, whom he had never seen."

Even the New York Times made mention of the Arabia <Download PDF article>, showing the heightening tensions between Germany and the USA, and justifying Paula's concerns at the taking on of weaponry.Paula and baby Norah Scotland prior to 
leaving Fremantle

An account of Paula's journey on the Arabia was rediscovered in recent years by her son who now reproduces it here, highly edited.

 THE ARABIA STORY
By Paula Erna Frieda SCOTLAND

The 10th October, 1916 was hot and muggy as we boarded the P. & O. Liner, Arabia from Fremantle wharf. I was glad when the parting was over and I could settle down. The cabin was crowded so as best I could I tried to make myself comfortable. I had my hands full with Baby, for we were both very sick at first, but she was the best and pluckiest little one.Boat practice began. Not till then did we realise the amount of danger we might encounter. It sent a cold shiver through me to read the various instructions on discipline needed in an emergency. When the siren blew, our lifebelts had to be adjusted and we rushed to boat stations. Even Baby had to do her bit. I was advised by the captain to strap her in my belt!

As we travelled through the Red Sea, excitement was not lacking for two Indian stokers jumped overboard after four of them died in the heat of the engine room. Then we arrived at Port Said and I was delighted to meet my husband's brother, Will Scotland, a Commander in the Royal Navy. However we were in port a very short time, having orders to quit early. We left, well escorted by patrol boats; a wonderful comfort to the passengers. Ship's port-holes were closed and blacked out and life-boats were swung out. A 4.7 ins. gun had been taken aboard together with three gunners but I dreaded the sight of it, to say nothing of the sound when they shot off for practice.

There was such a feeling of uncertainty among us all, especially as worry and anxiety could be detected on the faces of the ship's staff. We were all thankful when the first day was over. It was rumoured the submarines favoured early morning, midday and dusk to attack. Thus, with nightfall we could go full steam ahead with smoke pouring out of our funnel, making up for time lost during the day. The ship was fearfully crowded and a number of us slept in the music saloon. We had our lifebelts with us and I carried Baby with me wherever I went.

At 9 pm on the second day out, our escort departed. It felt strange to be left so entirely on our own. Next morning passengers saw the trail of a submarine closely following us. At 11 am Baby played at my feet while I talked with Mrs. and Miss Crooks from Adelaide. There was a loud exclamation - "Here she comes!" We were all thrown to the floor with the force of a terrific explosion. The Arabia rocked to and fro, swung half round and for a moment everything stopped in uncanny silence. Some were hurt by the concussions, which threw them to the floor several times. Then everyone rushed hither and thither adjusting their lifebelts. Water and coal showered us and blackened us, for the torpedo had struck the coal bunkers.

There was not a sound from Baby as I snatched her up. She just clung to two tiny play things. The boat took a big list and began to settle stern first. Crossing the well-deck to get to our boat station was difficult. The tarpaulin covering had been partly smashed and torn down. Lascar stokers bumped me as they rushed forward and went off with several boats. Still the calmness and order was marvellous.

We found our boat lowered to the sea and had to scramble over the railing, grab a rope and let ourselves down. It seemed to take me ages and was a most peculiar sensation with Baby strapped in my lifebelt. The boat was leaking and had on board 65 people instead of 35. Most had been injured in some way with skinned hands and bleeding faces. In 15 minutes we were clear of the sinking ship.

I shall never forget the strange weird sight of small boats and rafts rowing aimlessly and the Arabia, helpless in all its hugeness, slowly, but surely settling into the tranquil sea. Three submarine periscopes were seen and one submarine surfaced. Then all disappeared. Sunlight glinted exquisitely on the sea's surface but what dangers lurked in its blue depths!

The ship's radio had been smashed, but thank God what a relief it was to see trails of smoke on the horizon. Within an hour and a half four minesweepers arrived and soon helped us aboard. Our rescuers regretted being unable to avenge us, but there was no sign of the submarines now.

Our minesweeper drew near to see the last of the Arabia. She groaned deeply, a pall of black smoke came and then she slipped down, stern first. Only a short time before, this great majestic ship had glided through the seas, and now it was swallowed by those greedy waters. Deck chairs and pillows appeared but all we could do was to turn away and choke back our sobs.I pressed my little one to me and wept silently, thanking God for His goodness in saving us. We had lost our possessions, but what was that compared to the saving of hundreds of lives? Ah, it was all too wonderful.

Our minesweeper headed straight for Malta, being about 300 miles out. We were told to make ourselves as comfortable as possible and to bear up. No one had much covering. A few found room in tiny cabins, but the majority sat upright on the deck, closely packed, men, women and children - waiting and watching - wondering whether we were ever going to see land again.

Fortunately someone had given me a smoke-room table cover, snatched up when leaving the ship. It was thick and warm, and was a wonderful protection for Baby. What would I have done without it? At about 5 pm we ran into a terrific storm. It grew worse after dark, with thunder, lightning and rain. The waves washed over us and soaked us, the rain poured down upon us. Hour after hour we pitched and tossed and everyone was sick anywhere and everywhere. None cared. With daylight the fury of the storm abated a little, but the dreadful pitching and tossing continued. No one moved from their places but the crew worked hard and did what they could for us. I am sure those brave fellows did not get enough recognition for their services.

During the previous evening we had eaten bread and butter and had a mouthful of tea to wash it down. Next day there was tough damper and dry biscuits, but few ate. Poor Baby lay in my arms whimpering. She was weak and ill, but so good! She nibbled at a biscuit then just starved and would not take drink. Another long endless day and a greater part of the next day passed. We lay or sat huddled up and wet through. Would we ever reach land? Surely we would soon awaken from this ghastly nightmare!

After nightfall a dim light showed, then more sprang to view. Malta at last! Signs of movement showed among some of the people, but most were past caring. Then we were informed no boats were allowed to enter Malta Harbour after sundown. A cry of distress went up. The children could not stand much more and the women were nearly as bad. A wireless message was sent out to that effect. Under these circumstances the bar was permitted to be opened for us. Still it seemed ages before we entered harbour, past crowds outlined in the darkness and looking at us.

We glided in silently, up to welcoming lights of a Hospital Ship. Sailors did their best to get us up into the ship, "Women and children first!" It was 2 am and we must have looked a sad and pathetic group. Doctors, sisters and orderlies flitted about, like angels ministering to our needs.

Oh, the joy and comfort of rest and food. We were put to bed and given a quarter of a cup of steaming chicken broth. Even Baby enjoyed it. But how strange that such a small quantity hurt to swallow. I tried to sleep but violent headaches and sickness meant little rest.

Next day we were told, "Go to different hotels when fit enough." The Red Cross supplied a few clothes and the P & O Shipping Company, who were awaiting instructions about us from England, gave us funds for further clothing. But shopping in Malta was not easy. It was cold and wet and I had to take my poor baby with me wherever I went. She was so thin and peeky I called the doctor and he declared her very ill. I tended to her needs, but the days passed interminably for me.

Then I received a surprise, a cable came from my husband in England, "Await my coming - be there first opportunity." When at last a troopship arrived, he was on it. We stayed together on Malta for 11 days, roaming and driving about, filling in every bit of our time together. Baby was a little better and he greatly enjoyed cuddling his little Norah. My husband was due to return to his regiment and determined to take me back to Egypt with him. But boarding ship was a terrible worry for me. I was nervous; awake and trembling at the slightest sound. Then Baby sickened again with an awful cough until she was really down, poor child! How glad I was to arrive safely at Port Said. But worse was to come. I was unable to get authorisation to land and proceed to Cairo. Tha last of the Arabia

Then my husbands' brother, the naval Commander, arrived and he helped get me authorisation to stay in Egypt - for just one month. He even found us a very comfortable French guest house in Cairo. Later, my husband received approval for me to stay in the Canal Zone, near to where the Tenth Light Horse Regiment was camped. This was quite unusual and only granted under my extraordinary circumstances. We proceeded to Ismalia and I boarded with a French family. They could not speak a word of English so Baby and I mostly enjoyed each other's company. My husband came and went, whenever he could get away for an afternoon or evening.Then Baby developed Chicken Pox and we were all quarantined, my husband included. How really grand this was, for he received an extra two weeks leave until the infectious stage was over. We made the most of those precious days of our being together.

That month sped by and then my passage was booked to Australia on the ship `Namur' on 11th January 1917. My husband surprised us by journeying on board with us through the canal. But, at last, he had to leave. We watched him go over the side of the ship and into the pilot boat and saw him depart. His boat drew away and we strained our aching eyes to catch the last lingering sight of him. Tom Scotland - 10th Light Horse

AFTERMATH
Paula Scotland returned to Western Australia and lived with her brother in law and sister at Narrogin. There something special occurred. She gave birth to a sister for baby Norah who had been so ill and near to death in Malta and Egypt. Paula named her second child, Melita Grace. Melita is the Maltese name for Malta and the Christian name Grace was Paula's thankful acknowledgement of God's favour in delivering them from the sea and storms when the Arabia sank.

World War I ended and Paula's husband came home and the couple were able to have five more children. For a couple of years they managed Southern Hills Station, 90kms due east of Norseman in Western Australia. Click on the link to view the story of the expedition to retrace the steps of Paula and Tom to Southern Hills in 2006.

The compiler of this record is their son, Tom Scotland of Bunbury, Western Australia.

Paula's family had arrived in Australia from Germany last century but she still had relatives in Germany. Family folklore has said it may have been her cousin, Herbert Ernst Otto Harry Pustkuchen a German UBoat Commander in the Mediterranean and Atlantic, who was responsible for sinking the Arabia and causing such distress to Paula, her baby and 620 passengers and crew. He and his submarine perished in the Atlantic in 1917 soon after she returned to Australia.

However due to the help of Juergen Schlemm it has been shown that this is incorrect.
Juergen supplied the following information about the Commander, the Boat and the Patrol that sunk the Arabia. Commander Pustkuchen had some great stories of his own.

The armed Arabia (7,933 tons) was torpedoed by UB-43 off Capa Matapan in Greece. Approximate position 36.30N, 20.30E.

The loss of life was restricted to eleven of the engine room staff killed in the first explosion and it was thanks only the good seamanship, luck, and the prompt arrival of rescuing ships that the 439 passengers (169 of them women and children) survived.

It was said that the liner had been torpedoed without warning by the submerged UB-43...

The Commander
The Commander of UB-43 in November 1916 was Kapitaenleutnant Hans von Mellenthin.

He was a very successful Cdr. and one of the 29 German U-Boat Commanders (from some 500 Cdrs. ), who were decorated with the 'Pour le Merite' the highest German decoration in WW I.

He was born in 1887 and since 1 April 1906 in the German Navy. He rode the first year of war on torpedoboats, but changed then to the U-Boat force.

His first U-Boat as Cdr. was UB-11, but since the 29 August, 1916 he was Commander of UB-43.Kapitaenleutnant Hans 
von Mellenthin, who sunk the Arabia
He left the U-Boat on 31 January, 1917 and became Commander of UB-49, a brand new U-Boat.
v. Mellenthin spent with his damaged Boat a good month (October 1917) in Spain internment (Cadiz), but after repairing the escape was succeed and he went back into the German Navy.
On the 25 February, 1918 he received the 'Pour le Merite'.

31 August, 1918 he took in commission his last Boat, the U-120. He surrendered on 22 November 1918 in an Italian harbour.

Kptlt. Hans von Mellenthin sunk with all his 4 Boats 56 ships with 154.401 tons!
There were only 8 U-Boat-Commanders sinking more in the WW I.

After the war he fought on ground for a year in the revolutionary conflicts in Germany, and in 1920 he left Germany and spent then some years as a merchant in Bogota (South America).

The Boat:
UB-43 was one of the smaller German U-Boats from type UB II.

The patrol:

after then there were some days of nasty weather, but on

 


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This page constructed by Tim Law - email link. Tim is the son of Melita Grace, the baby conceived on Malta, and the grandson of Paula Scotland, the author.  

Links

Martime War - First World War

Second World War UBoats. (uboat.net) 


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