Descendants of two of the men killed when a First World War submarine blew up off Unst have described how they were both honoured and overwhelmed by the unveiling of a memorial to the disaster on Sunday.
HMS E49 was five minutes out of Baltasound on 12th March 1917 when she hit a German mine and exploded, killing all her crew of 31.
First officer Basil Beal’s great nephew Anthony Beal and second-in-command Ray Parkinson’s grand-daughter Nicola Hughes were among a large crowd at Hamar, overlooking the water where the incident occurred, both making their first ever trips to Shetland.
The commemoration, on the exact centenary, came about through the efforts of former Unst policeman Harry Edwards, who some years ago hit upon the idea of a memorial and set about contacting relatives of those who died.
Sunday’s ceremony began with former Anderson High School head teacher George Jamieson, an Unst man himself, telling the story of the disaster. The unveiling of the memorial was carried out by submariners from HMS Vengeance, based in Faslane.
After the unveiling, Gordon Thomson read out the names of all 31 men who died and Lance Corp James Trowbridge, a bugler from MoD Caledonia in Rosyth, played The Last Post and Reveille.
Wreaths were laid by the Royal Navy, Gary Irvine on behalf of the TA, SIC convener Malcolm Bell, Lord Lieutenant Bobby Hunter and Mr Edwards, while Unst minister the Rev David Cooper blessed the memorial.
It didn’t really hit us till we got here what he had achieved and we’re very grateful to Harry for that, and for meeting Nicola as well. It was a real ‘hair on your neck’ moment when we got to the hill overlooking Baltasound.
Among the crowd were crew members of the Lerwick lifeboat Michael and Jane Vernon, which travelled up specially for the day.
Following lunch at the Baltasound hall, the relatives of the crew both described the emotions they felt after being invited to the ceremony.
Mr Beal said: “I was well aware that the 100th anniversary was coming up. I thought of travelling independently, as I had never visited Shetland before, and then Harry rang us out of the blue with his invitation.
“We decided straight away that we would like to come. It didn’t really hit us till we got here what he had achieved and we’re very grateful to Harry for that, and for meeting Nicola as well.
“It was a real ‘hair on your neck’ moment when we got to the hill overlooking Baltasound. I saw a letter written by somebody who had spoken to the crew five minutes before they left Baltasound. That really brought it home to me, just the thought that someone could have spoken to them five minutes before the explosion.”
Mrs Hughes said her brother had heard from Mr Edwards first and he told her there was going to be a commemoration service.
She said: “My husband and I decided that we really wanted to be part of it. We are particularly pleased that we did.
“I’m quite overwhelmed by this and the fact that everybody has contributed freely of their time.”
“This [seemed] remote to us, my brother and sister, as we grew up. But coming up here and finding out about the E49 and the tragedy has made the whole thing come to life.”
Mr Edwards said one of the things that inspired him was finding out that one of the crew, Henry Victor Arm from Portsmouth, was just 16 years old.
• For full story see The Shetland Times on Friday.