South Scotland

HMS Pathfinder tribute at St Abbs Head 100 years after sinking

HMS Pathfinder
The HMS Pathfinder was sunk by a torpedo in waters off the Scottish Borders coast in 1914

Relatives of one of the victims of a torpedo attack which claimed 250 lives have provided a wreath laid by divers to mark its 100th anniversary.

HMS Pathfinder went down off St Abbs Head in the Scottish Borders on 5 September 1914.

A team of divers from the British Sub-Aqua Club (BSAC) took a tribute down to the wreck.

Paul Ratcliff, 74, from Canterbury, lost an uncle he never met in the disaster and wanted to mark the event.

William Austin, known as Bill, was just 19 when he was on board when HMS Pathfinder was struck by a torpedo fired from a German U-boat.

Austin family
William Austin, pictured back row centre, was just 19 when he died on the HMS Pathfinder

It ignited the ship's magazine and the destroyer sank with the loss of 250 lives.

Mr Ratcliff and his brothers David and Colin met the divers to present them with a wreath to lay on the wreck.

He said: "My family originated in the Canterbury area and I can't imagine my grandparents being able to travel to Scotland when the Pathfinder sank to remember Bill or the other sailors.

"Travel wasn't so easy then and it just wouldn't have been possible.

"Bill was my mother's brother and he wasn't the only one to die in the Great War as her other brother, Jack, who was a solider in the Royal West Kent Regiment and also just 19, died at Passchendaele.

"His body was never recovered and he has no grave."

Video footage

Mr Ratcliff, who is a retired local authority education welfare officer, said he had been researching his family's history and what happened to both his uncles during World War One.

He was studying the history of HMS Pathfinder and discovered that the group of BSAC divers were planning a commemorative dive on the 100th anniversary of the sinking.

The family had planned to lay a wreath nearby but then contacted the divers to see if they could place it on the wreck of the vessel.

A team of 20 took part in the dive and also took photographs and video footage.

Paul Ratcliff
Paul Ratcliff said the family wanted to pay tribute to their relative who died in the torpedo attack

BSAC National Diving Committee member and group leader for diver coaching, Dave Lock, 63, from Felixstowe, led the HMS Pathfinder dive team and said he was pleased to speak to Mr Ratcliff and hear his family's story.

He said: "I think it reminds us that this isn't just a wreck but a real human tragedy that still affects families today.

"We must remember that around 250 souls were lost that day.

"Best estimates put the crew at 268 and there were only 18 survivors."

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