Lowestoft Fishermen's War: 1914-1918
Published 2nd June 2018.
Lowestoft Fishermen’s War 1914 - 1918 is the story of the Lowestoft men and boys who found themselves in the frontline of the economic war with Germany. Required to make statements under oath to a Board of Trade official in order to seek compensation for losses, their unpublished testimonies, which were also used by Naval Intelligence in their vital work to defeat the U-boat menace from Germany, lay forgotten in the National Archives. Not all have survived, but those that have form the main primary resource material for this book. In examining these statements, the author provides an insight into what one might argue has been an overlooked area of the town’s maritime history.
The usual way in which the German U-boats destroyed the wooden sailing smacks that made up the Lowestoft fishing fleet was by using a time bomb. Unable to out-run the submarine, on capture, the crew were forced to use their small boat to pick up German sailors from the U-boat, who would be rowed back to plant the bomb. The smack’s crew would then be set adrift in their rowing boat to fend for themselves. These unique encounters enabled vital intelligence to be gathered as the fishermen and German crews often engaged in conversation. As the war drew, some smacks were armed in order to defend the others and this led to many heroic encounters including that of the vessel, Nelson, and the death of its skipper, Tom Crisp on 15 August 1917. Crisp was posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross.
The author’s interest in Lowestoft’s fishing industry came from his father George who regaled him of stories of his father, George Francis, the last of the family’s driftnet fishermen following a tradition that can be traced back to the 1850s. George Francis had married Barbara Isbister a ‘fishergirl’ from Shetland deepening the family’s historical links to the fishing industry. Mr. Curtis came across the transcripts while researching his family history.