When the First World War ended over a hundred years ago, it left the world with a lot of things, from valuable lessons to ideas of innovation to unbelievable tales of atrocities, but also of hope, love, and heroism. But that’s not all. World War I left us with mysteries that still remained unsolved today. It could be the lack of sufficient records and proof. Through time the facts were mixed with myths until the two merged into a blur of confusion and unanswered questions.
Here are some of those mysteries.
The Crew of Zebrina
Zebrina was a flat-bottomed, schooner-rigged, three-masted sailing barge weighing 189 tons. It was built at Whitstable in 1873, originally used for trading on the River Plate in South America. Zebrina was turned into a cargo vessel shipping coal from England to France. In October 1917, she sailed from Falmouth, commanded by Captain Martin. She was carrying a load of Swansea coal and was headed to Saint-Brieuc, France.
The trip was expected to take around 30 hours, but Zebrina did not arrive at its expected time. In fact, it never did. Instead, it was found two days later at Rozel Point, near Cherbourg, France. The boat was not at all damaged or boarded, and all her Swansea coal was still on board, too. The only thing considered damaged was some disarrangement of the rigging, but other than that, everything looked normal. However, none of the five crew nor the captain was ever found.
Since there was no strong proof or evidence that could point out what really happened to Zebrina at its crew, we could only speculate. One of the theories was that the boat was attacked and launched torpedoes, but they passed underneath the flat and shallow bottom of the ship, failing to damage it. As it turned out, the boat had 23 people on board, way more than the typical number of passengers, which was six. That could’ve prompted the Germans to consider her as an armed merchant vessel, a Q-boat, instead of just a simple cargo ship.
Was the crew removed from Zebrina and taken elsewhere?
Who Killed Private John?
John Parr was an English soldier believed to be the first British Empire soldier to fall in action during World War I. He was fifteen and working as a butcher’s boy when he thought he could join the British Army. He was tired of being poor and wanted to get two meals at least a day. He enlisted and joined the 4th Battalion of the Middlesex Regiment after claiming he was 18 and a month old.
His death was on August 21, 1914. He was in the Belgian village of Obourg, northeast of Mons. Parr and another cyclist were in the village to identify where the Germans were. The official records stated that they encountered an Uhlan patrol from the German First Army, that he was left behind to hold them off while the other went back to report the situation, and that he was killed while exchanging gunfire.
That could’ve ended there. However, records also showed that the Germans had not reached the area yet at the time of his death. Could it be the chaos of war that caused the inconsistency in the records? Or did a friendly fire cause his death?
The USS Cyclops was a Proteus-class colliers ship built for the US Navy in 1910. She was named after the Cyclops of Greek mythology, a race of giants with one eye. From 1914 to 1915, she helped evacuate refugees during the occupation of Veracruz, Mexico. She also helped protect convoys in France during World War I.
On February 16, 1918, she was put to sea from Rio de Janeiro and entered the water of Salvador four days after. On the 22nd, she departed for Baltimore, Maryland, with no scheduled stops. Cyclops was overloaded when she left Brazil. There was also a report that her starboard engine had a cracked cylinder and was not operative, too.
She made an unscheduled stop in Barbados because the water level was over its Plimsoll line, indicating that it was indeed overloaded. The next day, it set off for Baltimore and was never seen again, together with the 10,000 tons of manganese ore and 306 crew. There were suspicions that the German submarines sank her, which the Germans denied. Until now, the real reason why Cyclops sank or what happened to her and everyone aboard remains unknown.