The UK coastline is littered with shipwrecks from across the years, but the tragic tale of the German four-masted sailing ship Hera, which sank with the loss of 19 crew off the south coast of Cornwall in early 1914, has long endured, fuelled in part by the fact that most of the victims are buried head-to-toe in Europe's longest grave, in St Symphorian Church in Veryan.
Now, the story of the life of this elegant sailing vessel – and her tragic demise – are the subject of a book by Kevin Patience, titled Hera – A Cornish Shipwreck Tragedy.
Patience has a long and colourful connection to the sea. He served with the Royal Air Force, becoming a member of the RAF Sub Aqua Club, and during a posting in Malta, he located several crashed World War Two aircraft around the islands. Later he embarked on a 20-year career as a full-time commercial salvage diver, operating in East Africa and the Persian Gulf.
This thirst for military and maritime history led to him writing numerous articles and then books, including a detailed history of the German cruiser Konigsberg, which sank off East Africa in 1915.
Kevin Patience's link with the Hera goes back a long way too. His last unit during his stint in the RAF was St Mawgan, where as Diving Officer of the station sub aqua club he helped locate the wreck in the first place. He actually wrote a story for the St Mawgan station magazine in 1970 after the discovery was made, and many years later he updated it for a shipwreck magazine. However, it was after a chance meeting in 2019 with two of the other divers who were also involved in the discovery of the Hera that he was inspired to write this book, which builds on his previous works with additional material and photographs.
I have read many shipwreck books over the years, and I have to say, Hera – A Cornish Shipwreck Tragedy is right up there with the best. It may only be 72 pages long, but those pages are absolutely crammed with so much interesting material, including archive drawings, old photographs, shots of the wreck today and more. Where Patience comes into his own is the sheer depth of information he has managed to collate, and which is contained in the book – the detail and facts he has managed to piece together to present a comprehensive overview of the Hera's history and its tragic end is absolutely staggering. There are literally hundreds of hours of painstaking research contained within this book, but his efforts have paid off, and together with the photographs, drawings, etc, Hera – A Cornish Shipwreck Tragedy provides a fitting tribute to the 19 poor souls who perished, and the five lucky survivors (Josef Cauchi, August Lassen, Carl Bressiere, Alfred Johanson and Walter Hoffmann).
Copies of Hera – A Cornish Shipwreck Tragedy are available from Kevin Patience himself – email: email@example.com or call 07974 350979. Price is £10 including postage within the UK. Overseas at cost.