The vital role played by British fishermen and their vessels in protecting the nation during the Great War is outlined by Dr Robb Robinson, a trustee of the Viola campaign, in a new podcast.
Robb, an acclaimed maritime historian and author and Honorary Research Fellow in the Maritime Historical Studies Centre at the University of Hull, produced the illustrated podcast for a fishing industry conference which was part of a project for the University of St Andrews.
It is now available online as part of a series entitled The Home Front: The United Kingdom 1914–1918, which explores the contribution by the people of the British Isles to the war effort.
Robb begins by outlining the importance of the trawler fleet, with the Royal Naval Reserve trawler section recruiting more than 1,400 men and over 100 ships. The ships were rigged and the men were trained so they could be brought into service quickly as minesweepers.
The immediate response of the Admiralty on the outbreak of war was to ban all fishing vessels from the North Sea. They soon returned under Admiralty supervision and had three key roles – minesweeping, patrol duties, particularly as protection against submarines, and catching fish to feed the nation.
Robb reports: “There were very few fishermen working off the British coast who were not working in a war zone. When you look at the Great War and see what was going on around our coast on a day by day and week by week basis, fishermen were on the front line.
“If you were able to drain the North Sea you would see a battlefield. It’s a forgotten war. The Viola entered Admiralty service in September 2014 and was in service week after week, month after month throughout the war. She steamed far more miles than any dreadnought, was involved in numerous encounters with enemy submarines and involved in the direct sinking of two of them.”
The full podcast is available here: