Thursday, 15 November 2012

The Live Bait Squadron, 1914

Midshipman Duncan Stubbs
Major Stubbs' fifteen-year-old son Duncan died on 22 September 1914.  There is a brass tablet in his memory in St Cuthbert's, Ormesby, and he is commemorated on the Nunthorpe War Memorial.

Duncan and fellow naval cadets had been taken out of Dartmouth Naval College at the outbreak of war and posted to armoured cruisers patrolling the area of the North Sea known as the Broad Fourteens.  When HMS Aboukir, Hogue and Cressy were torpedoed by a German submarine in an action which lasted only 75 minutes, 13 of the 28 cadets lost their lives.

Survivors from the cruisers were picked up by Dutch and British trawlers - 837 were rescued, but 1,459 died.

Many of the men who died that day were reservists, who left young widows struggling to bring up small children.  Their families were to feel their loss for many years; indeed, in some cases the difficult circumstances they suffered left effects that are still felt today.

The wreck sites of the three cruisers are now highly valued, not only by the families, maritime archaeologists and historians but also by divers and ecologists, as they provide a vital habitat for sea life.

There was great concern recently when it was realised that the wrecks were under threat from salvage companies, sparking outrage and a protest campaign from the public in Holland and Britain.

The wrecks are also vulnerable to the debris left by fishing, and divers working with the Dive The North Sea Clean project regularly visit the wreck sites to rescue crabs, lobsters and fish trapped by fishing lines and nets.  A film showing their work can be seen here.

In September this year, Dutch author Henk van der Linden's excellent new book on the disaster Live Bait Squadron: Three Mass Graves off the Dutch coast was published in English and the book launch was held at Chatham, following a memorial service in Rochester Cathedral.  A very moving occasion.

And now a documentary film is being made about the wrecks, their history and their ecological importance today - visit the facebook page for details!

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