Leamington diver heads poignant expedition to find lost World War One wreck - The Leamington Observer

Leamington diver heads poignant expedition to find lost World War One wreck

Leamington Editorial 10th Jun, 2024   0

AN EXPEDITION to find a forgotten shipwreck could turn into an underwater version of Who Do You Think You Are for one Leamington diver.

Peter Draper is heading up a diving expedition in search of a forgotten World War 1 trawler which he thinks was crewed by his third cousin.

He will be joined by 12 divers from Leamington and Warwick Sub-Aqua Club who will dive for the wreck of the minesweeping trawler HMT Apley believed to be lying in over 30 metres of water on the seabed off the Isle of Wight.

The expedition heads to Gosport at the end of June and has been made possible thanks to funding secured from the British Sub Aqua Jubilee Trust.

HMT Apley was lost on December 6 1917 when she struck a mine laid by a German U-boat.

Eleven of her crew of 17 lost their lives, including Peter’s third cousin, Frederick Walker, the 24-year-old Royal Naval Reserve Wireless Telegraph Operator on board.

The wreck has lain largely undisturbed for over 100 years.

The expedition will attempt to confirm that it is indeed the Apley and provide a contemporary description of the wreck today.

Fishing trawlers were strong, sturdy ships designed to withstand severe weather conditions out at sea, and in 1907 the commander in-chief of the home fleet, Admiral Lord Beresford, recognised that trawlers could be used as minesweepers. His recommendation led to the formation of the Royal Naval Reserve (Trawler Section) in 1910.

The Apley was owned by the Neyland Steam Trawling and Fishing Co in Neyland, Pembroke. It was operated out of Neyland from 1908 until 1914 and in August 1914 was requisitioned by the Admiralty and converted to a minesweeper, fitted with a three-pounder gun.

Peter said: “In addition to my passion for diving I also have a keen interest in my family’s history, which I have researched for many years. During the course of this research, I discovered that my third cousin, Frederick James Bloxham Walker, had died in WW1. Frederick died, aged just 24, leaving behind his new wife, Grace, and an eight-month-old daughter, also Grace. Further research revealed that he had died at sea aboard HMT Apley.

“It does feel especially poignant to be diving a wreck on which a family member died and Frederick Walker was from a generation which for me doesn’t feel so long ago, he was my granny’s cousin, so the same generation as my grandparents. It is quite possible that, had he survived, I would perhaps have met him at a family celebration.

“On my first visit to the National Archives in Kew I was able to look at two surviving ships logs for HMT Apley which painted a picture of their mine sweeping duties – long days of routine work keeping the war channels clear of mines when a lost bucket overboard might be the highlight of the log entries, interspersed by moments of high tension with a mine caught in the sweep.

“On December 6 1917 HMT Apley was carrying out mine clearance operations between the Isle of Wight and the Owers Lightship when she struck a mine that had been laid by UC-71.”

Peter added there are no records of anyone diving for HMT Apley in recent times.

The findings from his expedition will be fed back to the Maritime Archaeology Trust whose Heritage Lottery Fund supported project, ‘The Forgotten Wrecks of the First World War’, has produced an accessible database that provides information regarding these shipwrecks.

The findings from the Leamington club’s expedition will be used to update this database.

For more information visit https://forgottenwrecks.maritimearchaeologytrust.org/

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