The churchyard of St Thomas on Raghery like many other graveyards around the coast of North Antrim contain war graves of those that lost their lives during the First World War. I first became curious after seeing freshly placed poppy wreaths to men lost on HMS Racoon and HMS Viknor in Bonamargie Friairy at Ballycastle, this made me wonder about the circumstances which brought these young seamen to their final resting place in a small corner of North Antrim.
The following information was collated from research on the internet and by visiting the graves at Bonamargie, Ballintoy, Raghery and Ramelton in Donegal, other graves can be found in Scotland. Hopefully it will shed a little light on the graves you may see in the churchyard.
H.M.S. Racoon was a Beagle class, three funnelled coal burning destroyer displacing some 950 tons. It was built and launched from the Cammell Laird shipyard in 1910. Armaments included - one 4" Primary and three 12 lb secondary guns plus two 18" centreline torpedo tubes - she carried four torpedoes. Her official crew compliment was 96 but at the time of her loss she was carrying 91 seamen under the command of Lt. George Napier. During the early hours of January 9th, 1918 she was en route from Liverpool to Lough Swilly to take up anti-submarine and convoy duties in the Northern Approaches. In heavy sea conditions and while experiencing snow blizzards she struck rocks at the Garvan Isles just off Malin Head and sank with the loss of all hands.
The Admiralty who initially covered up the tragic loss of life released the news that the ship had struck a mine when the facts were it was a navigational error which was revealed by a subsequent enquiry. It emerged that the ship which was sailing through snow showers went in between the Garvan Isles, visibility was lost and she ran straight into one of the islands and was lost with all her crew. The general practise was not to go between the islands when visibility was low but to go around.
In Bonamargie Friary you will find the graves of the following seamen from HMS Racoon - W. H. McKay, aged 24 ( RN SS/117528) a 1st class stoker. F. Harvey, Able Seaman (RN J/21488), E. F. Walter, Mechanic (RN 282791) and also one to an unknown seaman from HMS Racoon.
In Ballintoy Church graveyard are the graves of W. Griffin ( RN 347735) ship's cook. F.C. Sarez (RN K/44331) 2nd class stoker and F. E. Green (RN J/64519) Ordinary Seaman. In the graveyard of St Thomas, Raghery is H.W. Holder Stoker 1st class (289576).
H.M.S. Viknor was an armed merchant cruiser of the 10th Cruiser Squadron. The ship was built in 1888 as the 'Atrato' by Robert Napier & Sons of Govan East for the Royal Mail Steamship Packet Company and served on the routes between England and the West Indies. She displaced 5386 tons and was 421 ft long with abeam of 50ft and able to carry 279 passengers. In 1912 the ship was bought by the Viking Cruise Line. At the outbreak of the First World War the ship was requisitioned by the Admiralty and converted to an armed merchant cruiser and renamed HMS Viknor. She was assigned to the 10th Cruiser squadron to patrol between Scotland and iceland.
On January 13th 1915 she left her base either from Londonderry or Lough Swilly and headed out into rough weather for her patrol zone, although in radio contact she sank somewhere off Tory Island without sending out a distress signal. 291 crew members some report indicate that HMS Viknor had on board from the Bergenfjord, 1 German national suspected of being a secret agent and 6 stowaways who were also drowned. Also in the compliment were 25 seamen from the Newfoundland Division of the Royal Navy Reserves.
At the time the cause of the sinking was unknown and attributed to either the weather or a mine or indeed both. In 2006 the wreck was found by a diving club on what is believed to have been the outer edge of a minefield laid by the German minelayer SMS Berlin. Both these ships resulted in the loss of all those on board, their bodies were washed up on the shores of Donegal, North Antrim, Raghery and the Scottish Islands. Those recovered from the ocean were buried in local graves. Bonamargie Friary you will find the grave of Private. J. Griffin ( PO 7084 ) and four unknown graves of seamen from HMS 'Viknor' . In Ballintoy Churchyard the grave of of E.R. Hewett ( RN J/27300) 1st Class Boy and on Ratghery j.j. Walton Petty Officer 2nd class (1301520) and the graves of six unknown seamen from HMS Viknor.