‘One in a lifetime’ chance to honour World War One trawlerman

Sydney Stratford who died while serving as R.N Petty Officer 1st Class aboard the Alberta
Sydney Stratford who died while serving as R.N Petty Officer 1st Class aboard the Alberta
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WHEN you think of honouring those killed in World War One - it is the soldiers fighting on the battlefields of far away fronts that immediately spring to mind.

But in Grimsby alone, more than 1,200 fishermen and boys were killed in the North Sea - some simply doing the job they had done, day in, day out, to provide for their families, but others died after having their trawlers given the task of clearing mines laid by the German navy from around the coast of Britain.

Linda Wood travelling to the site the Alberta was lost

Linda Wood travelling to the site the Alberta was lost

It is on one of these trawlers, the Alberta, that Linda Wood’s great-grandfather Sidney Stratford perished.

She has been given a “once-in-a-lifetime” chance to pay tribute to his memory thanks to the Heritage Lottery-funded Shipwrecks of the Humber – Grimsby’s Lost Ships of WW1 project.

Ms Wood, 63, from Grimsby, had been piecing together the history of great-grandfather, whose gravestone in Grimsby Cemetery bore a Royal Navy crest, when she discovered he had died, along with several other men, when the Alberta was sunk by a mine in the North Sea in April 1916. But then the story went cold.

However, a chance viewing of a BBC Look North piece on the Shipwrecks project led her to get in touch, and she was able to find out much more.

A wreath and flowers were laid on water at the wreck site

A wreath and flowers were laid on water at the wreck site

Her grandfather, she was told, was a Royal Navy petty officer, and had been put in command of the Alberta and its crew of six. All perished when it hit a mine and a second trawler that went to her aid was also sunk. Other vessels recovered the bodies and brought them home to Grimsby.

She then received a surprise invitation from the project team.

“They gave me the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to sail with them out to the wreck site, to honour my great grandfather’s memory as well as his crewmen by scattering flowers on the water above her location,” she said. The trip was also to include the placing of a plaque on the actual wreck as a lasting memorial.

“The whole experience has given me something of a rollercoaster of emotions from excitement and happiness to sadness and poignancy,” said Ms Wood. “It made me smile and shed a tear. It has given me considerable knowledge and insight from reading Admiralty reports into what happened to not just my ancestor but to others lost on board ships from the River Humber.”

The memorial plaque placed on the wreck of the Alberta with names of men who died

The memorial plaque placed on the wreck of the Alberta with names of men who died

Shipwrecks of the Humber – Grimsby’s Lost Ships of WW1 initially received funding to investigate the wrecks of eight trawlers, but within a few months, they realised the scale was much bigger.

Since August 2014, the team has dived the wrecks of around 370 trawlers, and have received more Lottery cash to support the project, to a total of around £180,000.

The project’s chairman, Kevin Smith said: “Even after the war ended, trawlers were still being blown up by mines. In September 1918 alone, 28 were lost - basically one a day.

“But the annoying thing is, that almost nobody knows about what was going on in these fishing ports up and down the country. Fifty per cent of all trawlermen who went to sea in World War One were killed - it was more dangerous to go to sea than to go to the Battle of the Somme.

“But it was their livelihood. If they didn’t go out, they wouldn’t eat.

“These guys deserve credit. Without them we would be in a sorry state. They kept the sea clear for the Navy.”

Mr Smith, who has been diving wrecks in the North Sea since the 1990s, said it had been a pleasure to take Ms Wood and other descendants of lost trawlermen to places their relatives were killed.

“A lot of men left Grimsby and never came back,” he said. “Taking Linda out was a great day. It was nice to see just how touched she was to see where her great-grandfather died.”

If any descendants of lost fishermen in Grimsby would like help finding out more about the project, contact Mr Smith by email at kws19515281@ntlworld.com.