Confirmation of identity of lost Admiralty Trawler

First published in 1913, the long running news weekly of the fishing industry has helped to untangle the identify of a steam drifter, which was lost whilst tasked with deploying anti-submarine nets at the entrance to Milford Haven.

The Royal Commission’s ongoing project researching shipping losses relating to the Great War had discovered some confusion in sources about the origins of the fishing vessel. Staff at the Grimsby Fishing Heritage Centre had records which showed that the LADYSMITH was returned to its owners, Henry Taylor and Henry Hopwood, in 1919, so could not have been lost on 27 December 1915. However, members of staff at the Scottish Fisheries Museum were able to put Commission staff onto the right track – a steam drifter (fishing number BF1528) with close associations to the fishing community of the Moray Firth. Two short articles in early editions of this well-known fishing weekly provided confirmation.


Two Scottish fishing vessels, LADYSMITH and FERNDALE, had been put to use as armed patrol vessels/minesweepers and net layers. It would seem that the skippers of both had determined to run for the shelter of the Haven during a gale, but in attempting the heavy seas breaking at the entrance both came to grief. A crewman was washed overboard from the FERNDALE and, as the vessel stopped to attempt a rescue, it was driven onto the rocks off St Ann’s Head. What happened to the LADYSMITH is uncertain, but the reporting in FISHING NEWS reveals how devastating the loss was to three Scottish fishing families.

Just before the Great War, the British fishing fleet was vast. As early as 1908, the Admiralty had begun developing plans to ‘call up’ men to man the trawlers that it had ordered to help counter the increasing menace of sea-mines. These plans included requisitioning commercial vessels should the need arise. Some 150 vessels were thought to be all the Admiralty would need to complete its Royal Naval Patrol Service. However, by the end of the war, over 1,800 had requisitioned and the thousands of the fishermen who formed the core of their normal crews had been employed in theatres of war all around the world.

A very special thanks to the editorial team of Fishing News for allowing us to add a copy of the article to the ‘Great War at Sea’ collection on the People’s Collection Wales website.

Remembering all who gave their lives for their country and have no grave but the sea.


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