Grimsby's Lost Ships of WW1
Percy Horn HMT Alberta
Killed in Action
FAMILY THANKS SCUBA DIVERS AS WRECK OF FIRST WORLD WAR TRAWLER SUNK DEFENDING BRITISH COAST IS FOUND IN NORTH SEA
THE FAMILY of a fisherman killed while minesweeping the British coastline during the First World War have thanked scuba divers for finally finding the wreck of his ship almost 100 years on.
The wreck of the Alberta has been discovered in the North Sea by members of the British Sub Aqua Club (BSAC), as part of a search to trace the remains of 375 fishing trawlers lost from Grimsby during the 1914-1918 conflict.
Among those who perished when the Alberta was hit on April 14, 1916, was Percy Arnold Horn from Grimsby, who lost his life aged just 26.
Now his family have said they would like to lay a wreath on the wreck, which has been located almost 100 years after it sank, by members of the Humber Vikings BSAC branch.
A video of the dive to identify the boat, which lies in 22 metres of water around 35 miles north east of Grimsby, has been released by the diving club as members bring the stories of the boats to the surface.
The Humber Vikings BSAC divers are part of the Shipwrecks of the River Humber project, which was earlier this year awarded £176,500 by the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) to investigate all 375 fishing boats.
Among the first vessels to be researched by divers were the wrecks of the Alberta and the Orcades, on which a total of 12 men died.
Records show the Alberta had been sweeping for mines and was dragging one behind it, when the weapon hit the boat and exploded.
The Orcades was en route to help its stricken sister and her crew, when it hit another mine and also went down.
Now members of Percy Arnold Horn’s family are helping bring the human story behind what happened to the surface.
His great grandson Mark Richardson, 50, a painter and decorator of Heneage Road, Grimsby, believes the story of the trawlers is the last big untold story of the Great War.
He said: “It’s brought some closure to my own dad, Dennis Robinson, who is now 80. He always thought the Alberta was sunk much closer to the Humber and he was amazed to discover it was so far out in the North Sea.
“He would love to be able to go out with divers and perhaps lay a wreath on the sea above where the wreck of the Alberta lays. It would mean a lot to him. It’s wonderful the BSAC divers are doing this project.”
“The story of the lost trawlers and all those men deserves to be told. We know about the trenches and the zeppelins from the First World War but it seems the Grimsby trawlers and their lost crews have been forgotten. No one has told their story.”
“However, thanks to Kevin Smith and the BSAC team that’s been put right. I just hope my dad gets the opportunity to go out to the place where the Alberta went down so he can pay his own tribute, which would mean a great deal to him.”
Mark said: “My great-grandfather, Percy Arnold Horn, was my mother’s grandfather. He lived in Grimsby and his father; my great-great-grandfather, had a confectioners shop in the town.
“Then in 1903 Percy parents bought a bakers shop in Heneage Road near David Street. I was shocked to discover I now live just a few doors from where his bakers shop was located.
“Percy worked as a baker and was living in Cooper Road, Grimsby with his wife and children when he died.
“He joined up with the Naval Reserve when the First World War broke out and was assigned to the Alberta, which was converted to a mine sweeper by the navy. He was an engine man.
“He was on board on when a mine they brought up came in contact with the stern of the boat and blew her up. The mine was one of a dozen mines which had been put out by a German U-boat, UC7, under the command of a George Haag.
“He was later blown up, about three months later, along with all his crew when the U-boat hit a British mine. He was 26 the same age as my great-grandfather when he died. What a terrible war that was.”
The Shipwrecks of the River Humber project is the brainchild of scuba diver Kevin Smith.
More than a thousand men and boys from across the UK died on the trawlers? which were mainly destroyed by mines or sunk by U-boats while fishing in the North Sea, or having been requisitioned for service by the British Admiralty.
The project will also see 30 new divers trained up to BSAC Ocean Diver level to explore the wrecks that lie preserved underwater in the River Humber area, thanks to National Lottery players, who fund the HLF.
Kevin, whose father, grandfather and great grandfather were all Grimsby fishermen, says he’s delighted to have now been in contact with Mark.
He said: “Finding Mark is fantastic; it’s exactly what we were hoping for. We can now discover a lot more about the men who lost their lives and the trawlers that were lost.
“Mark has been able to fill in some gaps in our research so we can begin to tell the human side of Grimsby’s lost trawlers.
“We are looking forward to next year and getting back out into the North Sea so we can identify and plot the wrecks of many more of the lost trawler fleet.”
Kevin said the wreck of the Alberta was found in “remarkable condition”. He said: “All the measurements are right and the wreck has lost its stern which would match the story of it being hit by the mine it was dragging.
“There is a second wreck which lies around 500 metres from the trawler but we know that wasn’t the Orcades as this wreck was a much bigger steamer that was undoubtedly blown up by another mine.
“However, it isn’t one of our trawlers but we simply don’t know, as yet, the identity of the wreck. We are though pretty certain the Orcades lies not too far away from the Alberta.”
He added: “We are going back to the Alberta and will look for an engine number or maker’s name plate that will identify it for certain as being the Alberta. It’s in very good condition and supporting a huge amount of wildlife.
“It’s covered in lobsters, crabs and shoals of fish and it’s clear it hasn’t been dived much, if at all.
“The visibility was superb and although it has some snagged fishing nets from trawler activity since it sank, the wreck really is in remarkable condition.”
Mark, who has lived in Grimsby all his life, had already researched a lot about his great grandfather’s life and death on board the Alberta and was thrilled to discover Humber Sub Aqua Club divers had found the trawler.
He said: “I was looking on Facebook and came across the project they were doing to locate and log all the sunken trawler wrecks.
“I had done a great deal of research myself so got in touch with Kevin Smith and gave him all the information I had while he filled in some blanks for me.”
Mark, who lives in Grimsby with his wife, Tracy, has two children, teenage student Georgia, who is studying at Lincoln University and William 24, who has a son of his own, Axel, three, says his great grandfather is buried in Grimsby.
He said: “Percy was laid to rest in a military plot at Scartho Road Cemetery, Grimsby. I believe his daughter is buried with him although her name isn’t on the memorial.
“Percy and his wife, Amy Alice, had three children, Elsie May, Charles, who was known as Charlie, and Annie Rebecca, who was my grandmother.”
They all lived in Grimsby which was nowhere near as big then as it is now. My own dad was himself a merchant seaman and later a trawler man before becoming a painter and decorator. I followed in his footsteps.”
BSAC is the national governing body for scuba diving and is made up of 120 dive centres and 1,000 plus family friendly and sociable clubs, run by volunteers, up and down the country and abroad. The Duke of Cambridge is the club’s President.
It represents more than 30,000 scuba divers and snorkellers and welcomes new members from complete beginners upwards including those who have trained with other agencies.
BSAC chief executive Mary Tetley said: “What a fascinating story. This is a fine example of how the passion of our members for wreck diving can help enrich our understanding of our own cultural heritage.
“I wish Kevin and his team all the very best for the project as it grows and more stories are uncovered. I’m excited to hear about the next wreck they find.”
Kevin Smith says having discovered the wreck of the Alberta he is keen to track down any more descendants of those who lost their lives when she went down.
He said: “It would be wonderful to actually train up a descendant and take them out and show them the wreck. An important part of the project is to trace descendants and discover some of the human stories behind what happened.
“We have conducted a huge amount of research already and come up with some incredible stories, some horror stories which could only be classed as war crimes and some very touching and sad stories too.
“We have to remember there were grandfathers, fathers and sons who all died together when trawlers were attacked by German U-boats. And orphanages sent young boys to work on trawlers as cabin boys or labourers and many died when vessels were sunk.”
He added: “The U-boats would surface and tell crew to get into rowing boats if they had one and if not put them in the sea before sinking the trawlers. And of course they put down mines intending to sink British trawlers and other ships, just as we did tried to sink German boats.
“Amazingly, when we went to the Imperial War Museum they had next to no information about the Grimsby trawlers that were sunk or the men who lost their lives. They now want whatever information we can provide them with as the project progresses.
“We did discover one story of a trawler captain who towed a mine all the way into Grimsby harbour so the Royal Navy could examine it. Mines were quite new and there was little information about them. He was either a very brave or very stupid man!
“Trawlers, commandeered and used by the navy as minesweepers, literally had to plot a path through minefields in the North Sea trailing a wire to bring mines to the surface so they could be destroyed.
“We’d think it suicide today to deliberately sail through a minefield but these men and boys did it every day. No wonder so many perished. We have even come across one story where a U-boat surfaced and ordered a trawler crew off the vessel.
“A German officer boarded the trawler and spoke with the skipper who remained on board. They knew each other well and were on first name terms as they had fished together out of Boston, Lincolnshire for four years before the war!
“It didn’t make any difference though, they still put the skipper off the vessel and sank it.”
Mark added: “The divers are doing a fantastic job and I really appreciate what they are doing, the whole project is fantastic.
“There must be lots of people walking around Grimsby who have no idea they lost relatives on Grimsby trawlers in that war.
“I think because they weren’t military ships and many were crewed by non-military personnel their stories haven’t been recorded in the same way but many still paid the ultimate price.
“It’s a shame we have had to wait 100 years for their stories to be told and for them to get the recognition they deserve.”
For more information about BSAC go to www.bsac.com or follow the organisation on Facebook or Twitter @BSACDIVERS.
Percy Arnold Horn’s headstone in Scartho Road Cemetery, Grimsby. (PAH 2)
The mine laying U-boat UC7 (PAH3)
Percy Horn and his wife Amy Alice and their first child, Elsie May. (PAH4)
Amy Alice Horn, with Elsie May, who died of dropsy in 1924 and is buried with Percy Horn, Annie Rebecca, Mark Richardson’s grandmother and Charles Horn. (PAH5)
Amy Alice Horn with Charles Horn and Annie Rebecca Horn. (PAH6)
Charles and Annie Horn, Percy’s mother and father, outside their bakers shop on the corner of Heneage Road and David Street, Grimsby. The picture was taken around 1906. (PAH7)
Four generations: Mark Richardson, his dad, his son and his grandson
Went out to a new site on 3June 2017 and dived a new wreck which we think has never been dived, small trawler mostly buried in the sand but very exciting see it in Grimsby's Lost Ships of WW1
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