Mercantile Marine, SS Donegal (Belfast)
Killed as a result of enemy action on Tuesday 17 April 1917 (aged 40)
No known grave
Tower Hill Memorial, London
Robert Hughes was born on 11 February 1877 in Portavogie and he was a son of James and Catherine Hughes (nee McClements, sometimes McClement) who were married on 14 January 1865 in Glastry Presbyterian Church.
James Hughes worked as a blacksmith, a fisherman and a sailor and he and Catherine had at least ten children:
John McClement (born 6 March 1866 in Ballyhalbert)
William (born 14 September 1867 in Portavogie)
Mary Jane (born 16 August 1869 in Portavogie)
Margaret (Maggie, born around 1871; married Samuel Cully on 8 May 1899 in Glastry Presbyterian Church)
Agnes (born 1 May 1873 in Portavogie)
James (born 15 February 1876 in Portavogie)
Robert (born 11 February 1877 in Portavogie)
Elizabeth (Lizzie, born 3 September 1878 in Portavogie)
Hugh (born 16 November 1879 in Portavogie)
Alice Gowan (born 16 November 1883 in Portavogie)
Their father, James Hughes, died on 17 April 1911 (aged 66) as the result of an accident in which he broke his spine. His daughter, Maggie Cully, was with him when he died.
Robert Hughes worked as a house carpenter and ship’s carpenter and he and Nellie Emma Fleming were married on 1 August 1904 in St Augustine’s Parish Church of Ireland Church, Templemore, Londonderry. Nellie Emma Fleming from East Wall, Londonderry was a daughter of Walter Fleming, a caretaker.
They lived in Portavogie and also in Ballyhalbert.
Robert and Nellie Hughes had at least six children:
Hester (born 27 April 1905 in Portavogie)
Lily (born 12 July 1907 in Ballyhalbert)
Walter (born 31 March 1909 in Ballyhalbert)
Robert (born 26 February 1911 in Ballyhalbert)
James (born 21 May 1913 in Portavogie)
John (born 12 September 1915 in Portavogie)
Robert Hughes was killed when the SS Donegal was torpedoed without warning by a German submarine on 17 April 1917. The attack happened 19 miles south of the Dean Light Vessel in the English Channel and, as a result, SS Donegal sank.
The SS Donegal was launched in 1904 and was originally used as a passenger steamship. She was requisitioned by the Admiralty and converted for use as a hospital ship. SS Donegal was used to ferry wounded soldiers back to England from France and in the attack on 17 April 1917 eleven crew members died as did 29 of the wounded soldiers who were aboard.
Robert Hughes’s body wasn’t found and initially he was posted as missing in action. His widow Nellie applied to the courts to presume her husband’s death and in October 1917 the case was heard in Dublin. An affidavit was read in which a seaman with the surname Mullen stated that he had seen Robert Hughes lying dead on the deck. The application was granted.
In August 1918 the Board of Trade issued a list of merchant seamen whose deaths were caused by enemy action. This list contained the name of Robert Hughes.
Carpenter Robert Hughes is commemorated on the Tower Hill Memorial in London.