Remarkable First World War rescue tale uncovered by Wreningham man and diver team
- Credit: Archant
It is a remarkable wartime rescue tale which was almost lost. But now, 101 years on, it has finally emerged from the deep. Lauren Cope reports.
Early on September 22, 1914, a German submarine began a torpedo attack which saw almost 1,500 lives lost and three ageing British cruisers destroyed.
The sinking of the HMS Aboukir, Cressy and Hogue during the First World War sparked public outcry and led to critcisms that the Royal Navy had not done enough to keep the men safe.
Now, thanks to a Norfolk man's research, the remarkable tale of a naval reservist who spent eight hours in freezing water off the coast of Holland to survive the attack has come to light.
William Dolman, from Wreningham, near Wymondham, has spent years researching his great-uncle George Dolman's story and his dramatic escape from the disaster.
Last month, the 79-year-old decided to share the story with the world after coming across an appeal by Ipswich diving club iDive asking for relatives to get in touch following an expedition to the wreckage site.
He said: 'My great-uncle, George Dolman, was the last to be rescued from the sea.
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'Apparently he sat on the deck of the Cressy smoking his pipe as she began to sink.
'He then tied his big thick navy jumper to the rail and jumped into the North Sea.'
Eight long hours, submerged in freezing water, ticked by before anyone came to the rescue - but miraculously, he was discharged from hospital just days later and lived to 84.
The three cruisers were part of a five-strong group nicknamed the live bait squadron due to their vulnerability to attack from German submarines.
The squadron, made up of old and slow cruisers, patrolled the North Sea to protect ships carrying supplies from Britain to France.
In summer, diver Carol Wood from iDive, British Sub-Aqua Club's Ipswich branch, became the first person to lay a wreath on the wreckage of HMS Cressy - which now lies upside down 35 metres below the surface.
Mrs Wood, from Southwold, said that the dive was 'challenging' but added: 'It's a fascinating story which has really been pushed under the carpet so to speak.
'We have to remember it's a war grave so we were very careful not to disturb or remove anything from the wrecks. There is a lot of cordite around them and I didn't see any, but some of the other divers saw shoes and boots, which take a long, long time to rot away, around the wrecks.'
She said she found the experience 'very poignant'.
Mr Dolman said he was thrilled the divers had visited the wreck and that it helped keep the memory of his great-uncle, a blacksmith from Breaston near Derbyshire, alive.
'We should never forget the war and what people like my uncle George did,' he said.
'It's marvellous they have actually been to the wrecks and treated them so respectfully. It's really made my research into the Live Bait Squadron and the three lost cruisers come to life.'
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The live bait squadron
The 7th Cruiser Squadron, the so-called live bait squadron, was a Royal Navy blockading force during the First World War.
It was used to close the English Channel to German traffic and patrolled an area of the North Sea, protecting ships carrying supplies between Britain and France passing northern German naval ports.
The squadron was made up of cruisers Cressy, Aboukir, Bacchante, Euryalus and Hogue.
On August 21, 1914, Commodore Roger Keyes wrote to his superior warning that the ships were at extreme risk of attack because of their age and inexperienced crews, earning them the name of the live bait squadron within the fleet.