HMHS Ebani was used as a hospital ship for troops of World War I between 1914 and 1919. The ship was manned by the Natal Medical Corps (NMC) of South Africa but also carried a British crew (see below).
It was equipped for 300 or 400 patients but could carry 500 patients in an emergency. A table of hospital ships during World War I gives the following statistics: 6 British Officers, 13 Nurses and Sisters, 36 RAMC & St Johns Ambulance etc., 508 cots. A plaque at the Merseyside Maritime Museum records that over 5 years it steamed over 200,000 miles and carried 50,000 sick and wounded.
At the outbreak of World War I voluntary workers provided a lot of assistance to the medical authorities. A committee was formed, in Cape Town (South Africa), under Sir Thomas Smartt, to raise funds for the provision of certain auxiliary convalescent hospitals in the South African peninsular for both men and officers. A search was undertaken for a vessel that could be used for hospital purposes only (as opposed to a transport of ambulances). SS Ebani, a cargo vessel, was selected by the Senior Naval Transport Officer, Captain R.C.K. Lambert RN and by Colonel Stock to fulfill this purpose.
Smartt's committee chartered Ebani and converted it into a hospital ship for service in German South-West Africa. It provided the funds and undertook the alterations and fitting out of Ebani as a hospital ship in accordance with the general specifications prepared by the director of medical services. The ship was equipped as an hospital ship in Cape Town. A staff was selected for the ship, the belligerent Governments were notified, and Lieutenant-Colonel D. Macaulay took over the duties of officer commanding. As Ebani had been a cargo vessel for the West African trade, the decks were not unduly divided, and large airy wards with single-tier swing cots were prepared. In addition to the fitted accommodation, a reserve of naval swing cots were carried.
The Natal Medical Corps was mobilized in 1914 and served in the South-West Africa Campaign. During the campaign they formed the 6th Stationary Hospital at Swakopmund and manned Ebani. The Natal Volunteer Medical Corps (NVMC) was formed in 1895 with the merger of the Durban Light Infantry, the Natal Mounted Rifles and the Natal Carbineers and is now known as the 1 Medical Battalion Group (1 Med).
HMHS Ebani was intended to be a South African hospital ship to serve during the campaign in Africa. However, there is evidence to suggest that there were insufficient South African volunteers to man the ship and British (and possibly other nationals) were required to man the ship. A protest was lodged in the South African Medical Record on 28 July 1917. It was lodged by Medical Officers serving in German East Africa including Lt Col. D. Macaulay of Ebani. The protest was against the number of able bodied and military aged South African men who were stay-at-homers. This meant that the South African units had to be supplemented by men from the Royal Army Medical Corps (RAMC) to make up the numbers.
The best source to research HMHS Ebani is http://www.naval-history.net/, where the edited logbooks of HMS' Severn, Mersey, Thistle, Laconia, Trent, Lunka, Himalaya and Dwarf contain numerous references to her. Drawing together various sources, including diary entries by those aboard HMHS Ebani, it is believed that the ship was at the following locations on the following dates:
Sources have shown that the following people were aboard HMHS Ebani during its time as an hospital ship as either crew or patients:Private John Thomas of the South Wales Borderers - wounded at Gallipoli in September 1915.
Dr Donald Macaulay M.B C.M. (In medical charge of the Ebani until 1917). (Ross-shire).
Nurse A. Hills Hospital in Alexandria and Ebani between November 1915 and February 1916 mentioned in dispatches December 1915 and March 1916 and recipient of the Royal Red Cross for which her attendance was requested at Buckingham Palace.
Nurse Dorah Bernstein from Johannesburg, nursed GSWA, Salonika, Gallipoli, Egypt, France and UK and served on Ebani.
Nurse Margaret Blackmore (see anecdotes below) of Tilt Cove, enlisted not long after the outbreak of war and served on the Ebani in the East African Campaign and in the Mediterranean with the ship making one trip to England to refit and repair.
Mr. Alex Stephens treated aboard HMHS Ebani for wounds suffered whilst serving in the South African Army against the Germans in East Africa (see anecdotes below).
Private Hurbett Everett Treated aboard HMHS Ebani in 1915 (see anecdotes below).
Mr. William Hickman Smith of Dunston, Gateshead, England, served aboard HMHS Ebani as a nurse (see anecdotes below).
Owen Jones Soldier of the Royal Welsh Fusiliers, landed at Gallipoli on 9 August 1915 but succumbed to dysentery. He was admitted into the 2 Welsh Field Ambulance on 29 September 1915. On 4 October 1915 he was transferred to the 21st General Hospital at Alexandria until 30 October when he was invalided back to the UK on HMHS Ebani.
Dan Fewster A First World War British Army Battery Sergeant whose journals about his experiences in German East Africa give us some dates and locations for HMHS Ebani.
Arthur Beagle - of Hull, Yorkshire Mechanical Transport and South African Horse 1st Mounted Brigade. From the diary of Mr. Beagle we know about the whereabouts of HMHS Ebani in May 1918 and about a smallpox outbreak upon the ship.
E. L. De Reeder - was residing in South Africa in 1916. Volunteered for active service in German East Africa as a motor dispatch rider; was rejected, being only sixteen years old. In September 1917, enlisted in the South African Medical Corps, and was transferred for duty to No. 1 General Hospital, Wynberg, Cape Town, where, after one year's service as secretary to the officer commanding, was promoted to corporal. After nearly two and a half year's service ¦was discharged on request and sailed for England as wardmaster on Ebani and transferred for the United States of America.
Gunner Barney Sampson of the South Africa Field Artillery admitted to Z Ward on Ebani at Lindi on Friday 30 November 1917 in order to transfer to the hospital at Dar es Salaam. He wrote, "About 6 p.m. we had a good feed of bread and butter and tea. The butter was grand - just off the ice - and the bread was the best I had tasted since leaving Potchefstroom. The Ebani is a fine boat, beautifully clean. The beds are clean and comfortable and the wards have fans in them going all day and night. The sisters are very good and gave us a good reception. In the evening I had a wash and went up on deck for a smoke. The decks are full of benches and covered in while sails. One of the men played the piano on deck quite well." The next day he described his breakfast of "porridge - plenty of milk in it - sausage and eggs, lots of bread and butter, and tea. Made quite a good meal". In the evening he would sit on deck and read by electric light.
The following crew members of Ebani are mentioned in The London Gazette of Tuesday 3 June 1915 (presumably in despatches):Downs, Chief Offr. A., Ebani.
Faill, Master Mariner A., Master of HMHS, Ebani.
* , Lumsden, 'Chief Engr. W., Ebani.
The following sources have been discovered mentioning HMHS Ebani:
On 11 May 1918 Nurse Margaret Blackmore married Mr. Alex Stephens (a mining engineer) whom she had met whilst serving on the Ebani where he was treated for wounds he had suffered whilst serving in the South African Army against the Germans in East Africa. They were married in South Africa on 11 May 1918.
On 31 October 1915 Private Hurbett Everett described in his diary how they saw a submarine (demon of the deep) sink a cargo boat just a few miles from them. The submarine allowed them to take on the sunken ship's crew. It also spared them. Private Everett believes that it was the red cross on the Ebani that saved them.
A record was discovered for a Dr Donald Macaulay (captain) stating that his medals were withheld because he would not return the insignia of the O.B.E (Order of the British Empire) that was erroneously awarded to him it may have been meant for Lt Col. D. Macaulay.
Mr. William Hickman Smith served aboard HMHS Ebani as a nurse during World War I. After the war he kept a coin with the insignia of the R.A.M.C. (Royal Army Medical Corps) and HMHS Ebani on one side. On the other side is the picture of Kaiser Wilhem II (Guilelmus II Imperator). It is believed that the original coin was most likely to be a German East Africa (DOA -Deutsch Ostafrika) 1 Rupee featuring German (DR) Emperor Wilhelm II (1888-1918) which should weigh 11.6638 grams and would contain .3437 of an ounce of silver. There were 300,000 of these coins minted in Hamburg in 1913. What was German East Africa during World War I was a German colonial territory covering the modern-day countries of Tanzania, Rwanda and Burundi.
We know from the records that the Ebani spent time in Tanzania (see above). This is probably where and when the coin originated. How it came to be stamped with the Ebani stamp we can only guess but apparently it is not uncommon for coins of the opposition to be defaced during war.
The Journal extracts of Dan Fewster, a World War I British Army Battery Sergeant give us the following extracts mentioning HMHS Ebani August 28. 1917 - The MO will not keep me here, so I am transferred to the HS Ebani for Dar es Salaam. During the five weeks that I was in dock at Kilwa, my appetite was very poor and during the four days that I have been on this ship, I have hardly tasted food, although it looked very nice.
August 29. 1917 - We arrived at Dar es Salaam this morning, and I am removed to No.2 South African General Hospital, formerly the Kaiseroff Hotel. I am now a stretcher case, so I don't improve much. After being examined by the MO, I am marked for the south.
Extracts from the Diary of Arthur Beagle from Hull, Yorkshire, of the South African Horse 1st Mounted Brigade we know a little about the whereabouts of HMHS Ebani in May 1918 and about an outbreak of smallpox on the ship. His diary, http://www.arbr03694.pwp.blueyonder.co.uk/KaputalaSecondEdition.html states:
3 May  - I am still in hospital although removed to Lindi by river boat. I am feeling pleased today as the M. O. is evacuating me. It is now a matter of waiting for the hospital ship.
May 16  - Arrived at Dares salaam on the hospital ship Ebani and admitted to hospital. Smallpox broke out on the ship and all of us were vaccinated. (450 miles).
HMHS Ebani served as an hospital ship until 1919. Following the end of the German South-West African campaign Ebani was transferred to Imperial authorities. It continued to be used in various locations. Any staff of the South African Medical Corps who remained on board following the transfer were themselves transferred to the Royal Army Medical Corps (RAMC). It was sold in 1938 to Italy and renamed Maristella. A third boat by the name of Ebani was built in 1952.