Armistice (or Remembrance) Day on 11 November, commemorates the "eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month" of 1918 and the official end of WWI. The signing of the armistice in Paris was intended to end hostilities between the Allies (the principal members being France, Great Britain, Italy, Japan and the United States) and Germany, and was later ratified with the signing of the Treaty of Versailles in 1919.
A related search of our online collection revealed this poignant image of the Willochra at Ōhinehou Lyttelton on 17 July 1915.
A densely packed throng on No 3 wharf is pressed between the waiting ambulance train and the first shipload of ill, walking wounded, and stretcher cases, returning to the South Island from the Gallipoli campaign. Next of kin were issued second class tickets for the train journey to meet their particular soldier. The Willochra, referred to as “HMNZT No 21” on this voyage, served alongside other official, state of the art hospital ships, the Maheno and the Marama.
The Willochra had docked in Wellington two days earlier, welcomed by huge crowds (in part due to a half day holiday being declared) who, according to newspaper reports, were initially ecstatic as those men able to walk proceeded to vehicles waiting for them; then silenced and sombre as serious stretcher cases were disembarked. There is no denying the heartfelt fervour with which veterans were welcomed home. As men able to travel made their way home, even in small rural towns they were greeted by enthusiastic welcomes. This outpouring is hardly surprising considering that so many New Zealanders had a relative or friend serving at that time; nearly 100,000 New Zealanders served overseas during WWI; approximately 9% of the population.
The Willochra's entry to Whakaraupō Lyttelton Harbour that afternoon in 1915 was a noisy one:
“The vessel came up the harbour very slowly, tendered by the tug. As she pushed her nose athwart the moles a big steam whistle from the Athenic hooted a welcome, and the chorus was taken up by her sister liners, the Corinthic and Delphic and half a score of other vessels, the Paloona adding her siren.”
The SS Willochra was built in 1912-1913 for the Adelaide Steamship Company by W. Beardmore & Co of Glasgow, along with two identical sister ships, the SS Warilda (1911) and the SS Wandilla (1912). Weighing 7,714 GRT, with a length of 125.45 m, a beam of 17.25 m and powered by two quadruple expansion steam engines, these cruisers were able to reach 16 knots (30 km/h).
Originally chartered by the Union Steamship Company, the Willochra was requisitioned by the Royal New Zealand Navy as a troopship in 1914, undertaking at least twenty voyages carrying NZEF Reinforcements to the Suez Canal and returning with soldiers whose war was over. On the journey to the field of war, she was so tightly loaded with men and equipment that outbreaks of infection caused concern, despite most soldiers being vaccinated for smallpox, cholera and typhoid. In 1918 the British Royal Navy in turn requisitioned the ship and outfitted her in dazzle camouflage (see https://www.teuaka.org.nz/news/dazzle-ships-of-lyttelton). Her final war service was repatriation of German prisoners of war to Europe.
Post war in 1919, the Willochra was sold and operated by first the Quebec Steamship Company, and subsequently the Bermuda and West Indies Steamship Company. Refitted for 400 first class passengers and renamed Fort Victoria, it was under this name that she met her fate. Sailing from New York to Hamilton, Ontario in December 1929, she anchored to wait out a dense sea fog and was struck in her port side by the SS Algonquin, another liner on a voyage between Galveston, Texas and New York. All on board were rescued by the United States Coast Guard, but the ship was critically damaged and she sank later that day, her wreck still lying on the seafloor to this day.
See also 'Back from the War The Willochra's Arrival'