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Wells harbourmaster Robert Smith - descendant of WW1 sailor meets the scuba diver who has honoured his memory

PUBLISHED: 09:51 15 May 2017

Dive leader Dave Lock with Robert Smith, pictured with the historic death penny, commemorative scroll, and service medals given to Royal Navy sailor Robert J Smith�s family after he was killed in 1914. Picture: Bill Smith

Dive leader Dave Lock with Robert Smith, pictured with the historic death penny, commemorative scroll, and service medals given to Royal Navy sailor Robert J Smith�s family after he was killed in 1914. Picture: Bill Smith

Ceidiog Communications © 2017

The search to find out more about a Royal Navy ship that was sunk in the First World War has led to a heartfelt meeting between a harbourmaster, whose great uncle was killed in the tragedy, and the diver who is keeping the memory alive.

Robert Smith MBE, 57, from North Norfolk responded to an appeal made by members the British Sub-Aqua Club (BSAC) for relatives of those who had perished on the HMS Pathfinder to get in touch.

The divers, led by BSAC national diving instructor Dave Lock, had marked the 100th anniversary of the attack in 2014 by launching a special mission to lay a wreath on the wreck.

Mr Smith, who is the harbourmaster at Wells, said he grew up hearing stories about his great-uncle, Robert Joshua Smith, who he was named after.

He said: “Robert Joshua Smith was the older brother of my grandfather, Sidney Smith, and he died when HMS Pathfinder became the first ship to be sunk by a torpedo launched from a submarine on September 5 1914, just weeks after the outbreak of World War One.

“As far as I can tell, he had only just enlisted in the navy and was serving as a stoker aboard the ship.

“As a boy I often spoke to my grandfather, who was a local fisherman, about his brother and I always felt a bit of an affinity with Robert Joshua as I’m his name-sake.”

The Royal Navy sailor was only 19 years old when he died alongside 249 fellow sailors after a German submarine torpedoed their ship off the coast of Scotland in 1914.

Mr Lock said: “The ship lies 68 metres down off Abbs Head in the Firth of Forth and we were on the wreck site for about 25 minutes. It was a memorable but sombre occasion as it is classified as a war grave and you knew that 250 men had died there.

“After a few minutes’ quiet reflection at the bottom we laid a wreath and flew a flag.”

Mr Smith had been researching his family’s history at the same time that Mr Lock was leading the expedition and the pair were surprised to discover the historic connection as they already knew each other.

Mr Lock added: “It’s been fantastic to meet Robert Smith and to tell him about the dive. I already knew him quite well as we had a boat moored in his harbour for about 30 years.”

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