The gallant actions that cost Gorleston man Frederick William Smith his life 75 years ago
- Credit: Nick Butcher
When HMS Grove, a British warship, was hit by two German torpedoes she sank quickly taking two officers and 108 mariners with her.
There were 60 survivors, and Frederick William Smith, 32, from Gorleston could have been among them had it not been for his heroic, life-saving efforts.
Now as the 75th anniversary approaches on Monday his family are sharing his remarkable story for the first time.
It has only been since the advent of the internet and after a box of yellowing documents and sepia-tinged photographs came to light that his son Rodney, and grandson Nigel have been able to fill in the missing gaps of the story.
All they had until recently was his Albert Medal, replaced by the George Cross, and only awarded to 216 people in some 100 years.
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Nigel Smith, 54, said his grandfather, a chief petty officer in the Royal Navy, was travelling from Alexandria in Egypt to Malta as part of the Eastern Convoy when disaster struck.
At 5am HMS Grove was already in trouble and having suffered a mechanical failure was languishing at the back, travelling at a reduced speed.
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Having been spotted by a German U-boat U-77 she was hit by two torpedoes and, listing to port, quickly sank.
Other ships in the convoy picked up survivors while many others were trapped inside.
According to records Frederick Smith, hearing their cries, swam back to the stricken vessel and while trying in vain to save his comrades went down with the ship as well.
In recognition of his courage, going back once he was saved, his wife Lilian was presented with his rare decoration by the King at a ceremony in Buckingham Palace.
An accompanying certificate states he 'gave his life to save mankind from tyranny'.
Mrs Smith was sent two third class rail tickets to enable her to attend.
When she died in 1996 a treasure box was discovered containing mementoes including his war record and the telegram telling her he was 'missing presumed killed in war service'.
Nigel Smith said there was little to be gleaned online about the ship because it was new. But finding out that the medal was rare was nice, adding to the family's pride.
He said: 'We are extremely proud of what he did and his actions on that day.'
More about the Albert Medal
The Albert Medal is a civil decoration awarded for saving a life, said to be equivalent to the military Victoria Cross.
It was named in memory of Prince Albert and originally awarded for saving life at sea
Frederick Smith was one of just 216 people to receive a Bronze award (sea) since it was established in 1866, although others were awarded in other classes.
The Albert Medal in gold was discontinued in 1949 and replaced by the George Cross, and the second class was only awarded posthumously until 1971.
All living recipients were invited to exchange the award and from a total of 64 eligible, 49 took up the option.
In 2014 an Albert Medal awarded to a soldier in 1917 who went on to play professional football was bought at auction by a collector for £18,000.
Lance Corporal James Collins trod on a live grenade saving the lives of two soldiers who escaped unscathed.
The Siege of Malta
Frederick Smith had joined the Royal Navy at 16 and had already served on the bitter Arctic convoys delivering aid to Russia during the Second World War.
His family believe it was his first trip on the equally risky Malta convoy, vital to the survival of the island, a Royal Navy base in the mid-Mediterranean.
There were two convoy routes to Malta - one from the British base at the port of Alexandria in Egypt, the other from Gibraltar, and both were patrolled by U-boats.
The fall of Crete in 1941 had provided the Germans with another place to set up airfields and the sea route between Crete and Alexandria was nicknamed 'Bomb Alley' by those who sailed there.
By June 1942, Malta was desperately short of food and fuel, and on the verge of surrender. Convoys were sent at great risk.
The island was awarded the George Cross for its heroic struggle against the enemy.