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a blog by Chris Barrow

My parents marry

21st December 1951 and my parents are married in Ardwick, Manchester, with Charlie on release from his Naval duties.


Does anyone know why he is wearing a black shirt and not the customary white of a rating?

I’m wondering if this may be connected to the loss of a submarine north of the channel Islands in April that year. My Dad was a sparks (radio operator) during his service years and told the story that when HMS Affray went missing, he was one of the team who worked around the clock on sonar and radio to try and locate the crew trapped in the submarine but whose location could not be determined.

The official report reads as follows (Royal Navy Submarine Museum web site):

On Monday 16th April 1951 HMS Affray left Portsmouth to take part in Exercise Training Spring with a training class of young officers aboard, her orders being to make a daily report between 9 and 10 o’clock each morning and to land a party of Royal Marines on any suitable beach in the patrol area during the night. On the morning of the 17th Affray failed to report her position as required and rescue vessels were immediately put on alert as repeated attempts to call up the submarine failed. It was known that she had intended to dive 30 miles south of the Isle of Wight, so the search was concentrated off the island but the exact position of Affray was unknown. A number of vessels involved in the search reported faint Asdic signals and the submarine Ambush decoded a message stating, “WE ARE TRAPPED ON THE BOTTOM” but the Affray still could not be found. On the evening of the 19th the Admiralty regretfully called off the search. While the search for survivors was now fruitless the search for the Affray was to continue. In the middle of June, after nine weeks of searching, an underwater camera focused on the submarine’s nameplate. Her final position proved to be 37 miles from her known diving position. She was lying on an even keel on the edge of a series of underwater chasms known as Hurd’s Deep in the English Channel. Divers could find no evidence of collision damage but noted that her radar aerial and periscope were raised, indicating that she must have been submerged when she foundered. Both hydroplanes were in the rise position indicating that attempts to raise the submarine must have been in operation before being finally defeated by the incoming water. A reason for the disaster was however soon found when the snort mast was examined. A clean break was discovered 3 feet above the deck leading to the conclusion that metal fatigue had caused the loss, allowing water into the boat through a 10-inch hole. This was confirmed by tests carried out on the recovered mast at Portsmouth, all assertions as to a collision being quashed. Exactly what caused the snorkel to shear at the time it did will in all likelihood never be known.

Charlie told the story of round the clock duty and the fact that, by the end of countless shifts, the searchers were hallucinating through tiredness and repetition – but, alas, the vessel was not found and all perished. It affected him badly and on the few occasions he was prepared to talk about it, the emotion was still there after many years.

Again, a rare photograph of both sides of the family, Barrow and Mellor, together, seldom repeated afterwards as they had such different core values. This is the only record I have of both grandfathers in the same place.

After the wedding my Dad returned to active service and Mum back to Scotland to serve in the ATS. Not before the Barrows had enjoyed an undoubtedly massive booze up.

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