Konigin Luise at Orient Wharf in Sydney Harbour. Picture: Frederick Wilkinson, courtesy of of the Australian Maritime Museum.

When Travel recently published a story about commemorations in Britain to mark the 100th anniversary of the start of World War I, a reader was drawn to the mention of a German ship, Konigin Luise, the first naval casualty of the conflict when it was sunk in 1914 by British warships.

Hang on, said our alert reader, but surely a ship called Konigin Luise called into Fremantle after the war ended.

Our reader was right. A ship called Konigin Luise did call at Fremantle more than once. It brought Australian troops home from the Western Front and later sailed from London to Australia as a passenger liner.

There were, in fact, two German ships called Konigin Luise. One had a short life after being shelled and sunk in the North Sea by HMS Lance on August 5, 1914. Launched in May 1913, records show it first served as a steam ferry between Hamburg and Holland before being requisitioned by the German Admiralty to serve as a minelayer.

As a minelayer, Konigin Luise was disguised in the black, buff, and yellow colours of the steamers of the Great Eastern Railway that sailed between Harwich in England and the Hook of Holland when it left Emden on August 4 for its fateful meeting with the British warships.

The other Konigin Luise was an ocean liner, and later a troopship, before it returned to work as a passenger liner.

There was also a third Konigin Luise, the fictional German ship which Humphrey Bogart and Katharine Hepburn attempted to destroy in the film African Queen.

The ocean liner Konigin Luise was built for the North German Lloyd (NDL) line, and named after Queen Louise of Prussia. It was launched in 1896 to ply Australian, Far East and North Atlantic routes.

At the outbreak of World War I, Konigin Luise was in port in Bremen, where it stayed, largely due to a British blockade of key German ports.

At the end of World War I, the ship was allocated to Britain as war reparation and was operated by the Orient Steam Navigation Company. It was later renamed SS Omar and made its first trip to Australia for the company in September 1920.

The ship was later sold to Byron SS Co. of London, and renamed Edison. The ship was used on the Piraeus-New York service until being scrapped in 1935 in Italy.

Soon after the end of the war, Australian troops returned home on the Konigin Luise and life onboard was rarely dull. The soldiers nicknamed the ship "the Soupship Chronic Disease" and found several ways to entertain themselves.

Australian War Memorial archives show that in June 1919, after the ship had left Devonport in England to travel to Australia via Durban in South Africa, the Diggers Defence Act was invoked for a mock trial of "commissioned and non-commissioned officers holding remunerative positions in the AIF on board the said ship".

Among those involved in the trial were Sgt Fogarty as Judge Corruption; W.O. Murray Toms as the Clown Prosecutor, Mr Showemnomercy; Private Newton as Foreman of the Jury, Mr Bribery; and Sgt Baker as the Female Detective, Miss Pimp.

The Konigin Luise arrived in Fremantle in August 1919, a rainy day but according to a contemporary report "the weather didn't deter the happy troops in their traditional slouch hats, and their families waiting to greet them, as they arrived home from World War I".

"Thousands of eager people lined Victoria Quay and the adjacent streets yesterday when the large troopship . . . berthed at E Shed," _The West Australian _reported.

"Eleven hundred officers and men and a few of their dependents disembarked at Fremantle. The vessel as she drew alongside the wharf was one mass of khaki.

"Jubilant Aussies were perched everywhere, and as they scanned the sea of faces below and recognised their excited friends and relations their faces lit up with smiles, and they waved in return and cheered themselves hoarse.

"Everyone was in ecstasies. The fine selections rendered by the military band added to the gaiety of the spectacle.

"Their Eastern States friends gave them each a last farewell, and as they looked upward and answered 'So long', with an accompanying wave of the hand, there was something wistful in the tone of their voice and the gesture.

"In E Shed the lads were regaled with a tempting array of dainties supplied and served by the hard-working members of the Ladies' Welcome Committee."

There was one particularly notable passenger disembarking - Victoria Cross recipient Pte James Park Woods, who lived at Caversham.

In one of his battalion's last actions of the war on September 18, 1918, near Le Verguier in northern France he was part of a small patrol that captured a German post then defended it against several counter-attacks by jumping on to the parapet and throwing bombs handed to him by his companions.

Plagued by ill health from his war service, Woods died in 1963. His eldest son, Pilot Officer Gordon Woods, was killed in flight training with the RAAF in 1943 and is commemorated on the Australian War Memorial's Roll of Honour.

The West Australian

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