I have been unable to find any census records for Robert, so I cannot say how much time he spent in his mother's home town of Aberdeen before moving to Grimsby, but by the time we reach the period that we were interested in he had followed the path of many young Grimsby lads and was working as a deck boy on the deep sea trawlers.
|Robert as a young man|
While searching for family WW1 records, I came across Robert's medal roll on Ancestry, which confirms that he served during the conflict in the Royal Navy Reserves, starting out as deck boy and earning both the Victory Medal and British Medal.
|Robert's medal index|
Fortunately Robert's service record survives, enabling us to get a good idea of where he served and the vessels (or at least the pay vessels they were associated with) he worked on. Once again my thanks go out to Hugh MacLean and the other members of the Ship's Nostalgia Forum for their help in decrypting this record!
|A section of Robert's service record|
We can see that on 21/08/1917, Robert: 5' 3.5" tall, blue eyed with a fair complexion, enlisted in the Royal Navy Reserves. His address is originally listed as 249 Burgess Street, Grimsby (near Grimsby docks) but is later changed to 186 King Edward Street, also near the docks.
|More of his record|
From his enlistment date, Robert first began his service at HMS Pekin, which from 1907 to 1919 was the Navy's auxiliary patrol base at Grimsby. From here vessels, such as requisitioned trawlers, would perform patrol, mine-sweeping and anti-submarine duties.
About a month later he was transferred to HMS Victory, the famous naval base at Portsmouth. This was possibly a period of training, for on the 06/10/1917 he was posted to the requisitioned trawler HMT Moravia, operating under depot ship HMS Brilliant at Lerwick, South Shetland Islands.
|HMT Moravia (pictured in 1932 after being damaged in a storm on an Icelandic trip)|
HMT Moravia had been requisitioned by the Navy in June 1917, fitted with a 12 pounder cannon and used as a minesweeper (deep sea trawlers' nets being particularly useful for this kind of work). After being damaged in a storm in 1932, she sank after hitting a mine in WW2.
HMS Brilliant was an Apollo class cruiser, launched in 1891. After service in a number of colonial ports, she became the depot ship at Lerwick, but In April 1918 was deliberately scuttled in the mouth of Ostend harbour in Belgium during the failed First Ostend Raid (intended to block the harbour mouth and prevent the transit of German U-boats and other raiding craft from Bruges to the North Sea). However German countermeasures proved too effective, and Brilliant and fellow blockship HMS Sirius were eventually destroyed by their crews outside the harbour mouth after running aground on a sandbank.
Robert was not part of her crew by then, for at the end of January 1918, he had been posted to the naval base at Lerwick, HMS Ambitious - established as an examination port and base for auxiliary patrol vessels in 1914. His ability is listed as satisfactory and his conduct 'very good.' Good enough in fact for him to be promoted to deck hand.
Three months later he was at HMS Idaho, another Auxiliary Patrol depot ship and auxiliary vessels base at Milford Haven, which took it's name from a hired yacht which was attached to the base.
|Fort St. Angelo, Malta|
On the 09/04/1918, Robert was posted to warmer seas of the Mediterranean. From HMS Egmont, naval base at Fort St. Angelo, Grand Harbour Malta, he served on Motor Launch 430 - one of a series of small, fast, capable petrol engined patrol craft. These motor launches were ordered on the 8th June 1915 in the USA through Canadian Vickers, built by Elco of Bayonne, New Jersey and delivered by November 1916. They were initially armed with a 13 pounder gun, replaced later with a 3 pounder plus depth charges. She carried 8 crew.
|A motor launch of the same type as ML430|
Some months after the Armistice Robert was still in service with the Royal Navy, and was transferred on 01/01/1919 to HMS Caesar, a Majestic-class pre-dreadnought battleship commissioned in 1898. Formerly flagship of the Atlantic Fleet, the outbreak of WW1 saw her operating as part of the Channel Fleet, before being transferred to the North American and West Indies station, including a stint at Bermuda. In 1917 she was transferred to the Mediterranean, where she formed part of the Allied fleet that sailed through the Dardanelles to Constantinople at the end of the war.
Robert was on-board the Caesar during some of her time at Constantinople, again being listed as being of satisfactory ability and very good conduct, before being transferred back to HMS Egmont in May 1919 and then back the England and HMS Victory in July. On 27/08/1919 he was finally demobilised and discharged to shore.
In 1923 Robert married Emma Gertrude (Ginny) Richmann (sometimes spelled Richmond or Richman) and they had 7 children. He continued as a deck hand on the deep sea trawlers, sailing out of Grimsby throughout WW2. His son remembers hearing a story that he was stranded in Russia for about three months during this time.
By the 1940's Robert and his family were living at 5 New Haven Terrace, Grimsby, although his job meant that he was seldom at home. He was a deck hand on the trawler Laforey when on the 8 February 1954, she foundered on a reef off the coast of Norway in heavy seas and snow, and sank with the loss of all 20 crew. Robert was 53 years of age.
The wreck of the Laforey was lost until she was discovered by divers in 2010, and the ship's bell was returned to Grimsby in 2011 and installed in the town's Fisherman's Chapel as a permanent memorial to the lost crew. Robert and the rest of the crew were finally laid to rest at a memorial service on 10th July 2011.
|The bell of the Laforey|