HMPMS Ascot Memorial dive 

Sept 2005

 

HMS Ascot - Laying the Memorial

Ian J Brown

 

Background  

Bishop Auckland Sub-Aqua Club has been in existence for over 35 years, so it should come as no surprise that members of the club have been responsible in part for developing diving in the area and locating many of the wrecks and dive sites which are now widely known in the north east Several years ago, club members Andy Anderson and Ian Wright managed to dive and confirm the identity and location of HM PMS Ascot, a casualty of the first world war.  Although northeast coastal waters contain many victims of the two world wars, the circumstances of the sinking of the Ascot are particularly poignant. Sadly, the Ascot was sunk on November 10th 1918 , only one day before the announcement of the armistice.  This gives the vessel the dubious distinction of being the last British naval casualty of the First World War; a fact that has not been lost on the privileged few recreational divers that have visited the site.

Bobby, a grand-daughter of one of the crew, was using the Internet to research the wreck and found a link from HMS Ascot to our club web site.  She duly contacted Andy (the club chairman) and asked if we could help provide further information about the circumstances of the sinking.  Further correspondence followed and as Andy grew to know the relative he discussed the plight of the forgotten crew with other club members who decided that it would be fitting to place a memorial plaque on the ship’s remains and invite the relatives to a simple ceremony.

 

 

The club formed a dive committee and each member was given a share of the tasks that would be required to ensure a safe and memorable expedition.  The dive, which is approximately seven miles from shore, is in an exposed shipping lane and this combined with the sixty-metre depth would take more than a little organising.   

The committee decided to use four pairs of divers who would use a tri-mix gas cocktail and would be monitored from the surface by their own surface crew.  Each diver pair was given a task, one buddy pair would deliver and secure the plaque, one pair would record the event on camera and the remainder would shadow the divers as safety cover.  The divers were to be deployed in double pairs and would descend down two separate shot lines which would be rigged with independent decompression stations.  After calculating gas mixes and agreeing run times, all that was needed now was a decent weather forecast and a safe tidal window.

 

Before the dive

The dive was planned to take place after the summer holiday season when everyone would be available.  Bobby was then contacted and consequently a target date of w/e 10-11th September was agreed for the ceremony.  Unfortunately, due to the heavy winds that seemed to develop each weekend permanent mooring could not be established prior to the dive.  As a result we developed a plan to shot and dive the wreck on the same day.   As the due date arrived, the team agreed to assemble in the Towers Hotel in Beadnell on Friday 9th September.  However, our hearts sank as we drove toward the venue in lashing rain and strong north-easterly gales.  At this stage it looked as if no diving was going to be possible over the weekend. 

Saturday morning was overcast and grey and, although the rain had stopped, the winds were still easterly and the swells were easily observable with the horizon looking like a mountain range.  The weather forecast was showing improvement but with our knowledge of local conditions we were not confident of any real change for the planned Sunday launch.  A little light relief was provided by Bobby and Jenny trying on dry-suits and familiarising themselves with their proposed dive transport.   The rest of the day was spent finalising run plans as well as checking gas mixes and ancillary equipment and generally trying to stay positive for our proposed attempt early the next day.

 

 

The Dive

Sunday dawned with broken sunshine and light winds and for the first time we realised that there was a good chance of getting launched and making the dive site.  So, it was an upbeat happy band of divers that assembled in the launch area eager now to complete the challenge.  With our radio checks complete, we were soon following our GPS co-ordinates with the five boats heading in formation toward the wreck-site on the surprisingly calm sea.

With minimal trouble, we managed to locate the wreck and sink two separate shot lines for the pairs of divers.  The decompression station and spare stage cylinders were fixed in position and the crews went over the details of the dive as we waited for slack water.

 

After a small wait, Andy made the call and the diver pairs were quickly kitted up and heading for the wreck in their pre-arranged order.  

As the divers disappeared beneath the water, the surface crews started to monitor the dives and waited eagerly for the safe reappearance of their charges.

The pairs of divers had dropped either side of the paddle wheels and later reported 10m visibility with decent surface light penetration on the wreck at 59.5m (not bad for September in the North Sea).  Andy & Ian managed to place the plaque in position and, with Mark and Paul’s video lights illuminating the scene, the other divers Gail, Malcolm, Ian and Dave were able to watch the simple service and reflect on the 50 crew members that had not managed to leave the ship almost 87 years previously.  All too soon, the divers had to leave the Ascot and make their long way back to the surface, buoyed by their thoughts and memories.

The first pair of divers broke the surface, timed to the minute by the surface crew.  The grins beneath the regulators were clearly visible as they were recovered by the boats and stowed their bulky twin-sets and stage cylinders giving de-briefings amidst the usual excited post dive chatter.  The dive had been successful and respectful and it was now time for the surface ceremony.

The Ceremony

The boats were tied together over the wreck site and, with the party listening in reverence, Ray re-introduced ‘Bobby’ the grand-daughter of Chief Petty Officer Robert Fenwick Irwin, who had sadly gone down with the ship only weeks before the birth of Bobby’s mother.  

Ray described the events and gave a touching eulogy which, combined with Bobby’s own sincere words and her reading of the naval hymn, confirmed the sense of occasion and brought a lump to many throats.


The casting of the two wreaths into the waters confirmed the sincerity of the occasion. The wreaths were watched for some time as a silent atmosphere of thoughtfulness descended on the team. 

One wreath created from simple red poppies was dedicated in memory of the crew.  A second wreath bearing an anchor motif crafted in blue flowers was dedicated to the lost relative in memory of a father who had never met his child and a wife who had no grave to visit.  As we made our way back to shore, we watched the flowers dipping below the surface as if eager to rejoin the souls they represented whilst our crew felt proud to have been part of a chapter in the history of the ship and acutely aware of the closure that this symbolized.

 

Conclusion

Diving as a sport offers many rewards and many challenges to many people. However, we are sometimes not aware of the human tragedy and complicated circumstances that go together to create what is for many of us an interesting wreck site. 

 The circumstances of the Internet search throwing together the finders of the wreck and the surviving relatives of the long lost crew have added a new dimension to our wreck diving in Bishop Auckland Sub-Aqua Club.  Despite the horrors of war and the obscenity and loss of life that this represents, the newly forged friendships and the sense of purpose represented by the memorial dive will stand as a testimony to the sense of purpose and friendships that must have formed amongst the long deceased but not forgotten crew of HM PMS Ascot.

 

   

On behalf of the relatives

Barbara Anne Hubbard (Bobby) & Jenny

Dive Team

Andy Anderson & Ian Wright  (Pair 1) 

Mark Knox & Paul Brydon (Pair 2)

Malcolm Brown & Gail Brown (Pair 3) 

Dave Metcalf & Ian Muirhead (Pair 4)

 

Boat Handling & Surface Monitors

Moira Anderson, Barbara Wright, Geraldine Metcalf, John Kipling, Caroline Kipling, Ray Brown, Ian Brown.

 

 

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