When I first saw the name ‘H Glasset’ on the war memorial I thought he was probably french, Monsieur Glasset. There appeared to be no trace of him but then he popped up as Harold Glassett with an extra ‘t’ in the Commonwealth War Graves Commission and census records. And he was a lot closer to home, in fact only a few doors away from me at No 29 Keble Street, right next door to St Mary’s Church. There is something about a submarine that terrifies me – bad enough to inhabit such a claustrophobic world in peaceful times but imagine being in one in a war, with the constant possibility of a horrible watery death in a confined space. Such was the fate of poor Harold Glassett who was on board the last submarine to be lost in the First World War. The son of Agnes and William, a plasterer, according to the 1911 census, Harold was 15 and unlike his younger brother and sister, he had already left school and was working as a ‘van boy’. Fast forward seven years and in 1918 he was a Stoker 1st Class on a submarine, simply known as G7. In echoes of recent events in the skies, she was on patrol in the North Sea, looking out for U-boats when communications were lost on 23rd October. She was declared lost on 1st November, just ten days before the end of the war. Sailing out of Blyth in Northumberland, she was part of a flotilla of ten submarines stationed there. Her commanding officer was Lt Charles Russell and there were 30 officers and men on board. Conditions at sea are described by another submariner working at Blyth at this time. ‘The wind was rough and the sea mountainous. The motion of the boat was a perpetual swinging, swaying, racking, rolling and listing. Inside the humidity was intolerable; moisture condensing on the cold steel hull ran in streaks to the bilges; food turned rotten and had to be thrown overboard. Bread became soggy and mildewy. Paper dissolved. Our clothes were clammy and never dry and whatever we touched was wet and slimy. The air we breathed was a mixture of hydrogen and chlorine from the batteries, foul air, the smells of cooking and unwashed bodies, of arsenic and oil fuel and finally carbon monoxide. No wonder we hardly spoke to each other.’ The same account also recalled ‘G7 set off on patrol and was never heard of again. Probably struck a mine, and they had been such a fine jolly crew’. Just eight days before contact was lost with G7 another submarine J6, was sunk by a British ship in an incident of ‘friendly fire’. Only fifteen men were rescued out of a crew of forty-five. Recently the wreck of this submarine has been discovered by divers. Harold Glassett’s G7 remains out there somewhere.
UPDATE In March 2016, with the help of Steve Dyke, followed up with a letter from Sheila Hill, we got in touch with a Deborah Reeve in Norfolk. Her grandfather was Harold’s older brother Hubert, born in 1887. He’s not on the 1911 census at 29 Keble Street and at the age of 24, had probably already left home. In 1916 he married a Beatrice Talmage, and one of their children, another Hubert, was Deborah’s father. She has lived in Norfolk all her life and has no knowledge of her Great Uncle but was fascinated to hear about the project and is considering coming on a walk. She was very excited to hear about her Great Great Grandfather being a plasterer, especially as several generations of the family have since taken up the trade, including her son. Meanwhile, next to St Mary’s Church, the little two-bedroom house at 29 Keble Street is currently on the market for £700,000. Lets hope Deborah and her family get to visit the old Glassett homestead and get to admire the quality of the plasterwork.