Monday, 28 March 2016

A tragic accident: Petty Officer Robert George Larcombe, 7 April 1916


The disused East Budleigh station as it appears today 

Robert Larcombe’s name appears on both Ilfracombe and Otterton’s war memorials. Born in Plymouth on 22 December 1880, he was one of seven children of John and Mathilda Larcombe who at one stage were living at 97 High Street in Ilfracombe. 

His father was working for the Great Western Railway, and by 1901 had progressed from being a railway guard to becoming station master for East Budleigh Station on the outskirts of the village of Otterton. By 1911 he had retired, but he and his wife continued to live in Otterton, which explains why their son is listed on the village war memorial.

After leaving school in Ilfracombe Robert worked as a general labourer in Devonport and  then joined the Royal Navy as a stoker just before Christmas in 1905. Within two years he had qualified as a telegraphist.  He was serving on the battleship HMS Russell, pictured above, when he married Minnie Murgatroyd in Wakefield Cathedral on 28 March 1910. Both were 29 years old.

By 1911 he had gained the rank of Petty Officer Telegraphist, and decided to work in submarines. He spent three years from mid-1912 at HMS Dolphin, a submarine school in Gosport, Hampshire, before moving to HMS Titania, a submarine depot ship based at Blyth in Northumberland. He also spent time on HMS Vernon, a shore establishment used for torpedo training.

On 7 April 1916 he was serving as a wireless operator on submarine E30, based at Blyth. The vessel, seen in the above photo, had been built by Armstrong Whitworth at Newcastle on Tyne and was commissioned in November 1915. 

An explosion, apparently caused by a faulty battery, resulted in the death of Robert and three other men. He was buried at Blyth Cemetery, following a funeral attended by over 500 officers and men. 

The submarine did not survive WW1: all 30 crew of E30 were lost when it was mined off Orfordness, Suffolk on 22 December 1916.

‘The Great War at Fairlynch’ 2015 exhibition at Budleigh Salterton’s very special museum! 

Reviews included: 'Wonderful display on WW1, informative, bright and relevant. Well done!!' 

1 comment:

  1. 170220

    Hi Sue
    A pleasure to hear from you. Yes, the internet is amazing. Thank you for writing.
    Best wishes

    william lennox
    Attachments23:35 (9 hours ago)

    to me
    Hello Michael:

    I just came across your article!

    My grandfather, Edward Albert Howard, was one of those killed in that accident and is buried in Blythe cemetery. We were always told it was a torpedo, that the sub was above water but those men were sleeping belowdecks.

    How exciting to hear more of the story! Bless the internet.

    Edwards's wife and children eventually emigrated to the colonies and settled in Cincinnati. I live in Arizona.

    Thanks so much,

    Sue Lennox
    Scottsdale, Az.