THE TWO WORLD WARS saw numbers of British non-naval vessels called up for service.
Many fishing trawlers and drifters were turned into mine-sweepers, patrolling British ports.
The laying of moored mines by the Germans was relentless, as was the searching and destruction of them. In a two-week period between 15 and 31 December 1916 in the Falmouth area, 89 were destroyed.
The 145-ton trawler St Ives H11 was requisitioned on 3 March, 1915, converted into an auxiliary patrol vessel and entered naval service in May, designated 1192.
HM Trawler St Ives helped in salvaging the ss Keltier on 11 and 12 December, 1916. The crew would have received a share of the salvage award, once it had been sorted out with the insurers.
Then she struck a mine laid by UC17 somewhere in Falmouth Bay, with the loss of the commanding officer and 10 ratings.
Over the years, divers have searched for the St Ives. It took a while to find the Falmouth Commodore’s notification to the Admiralty in the national archive. It read: “Regret to report trawler 1192 St Ives blown up by mine two miles WSW of St Anthony Falmouth.”
St Anthony Point, with its lighthouse, is on the eastern side of the entrance to Falmouth harbour and is often used as a reference point. The area two miles WSW consists of coarse sand and was dredged for scallops for many years, so any remains would have been known, either as foul ground or where things had been trawled up.
Eventually, after much diving in that area, I found 12 cast-iron blocks. Around 30cm on each side and 10cm thick they seemed too big for ballast, which has to be movable, yet too few in number for cargo. What could they be?
Eventually someone who knew about old steam trawlers provided a plausible answer. When a trawler had a steam-engine and boiler fitted towards the stern, the weight would cause the bow to rise.
A vessel the size of the St Ives would need around 12 tons to compensate for this – the approximate weight of the blocks.
Then a local ex-diver told me a story about another wreck in the area, an oil-tanker called the Caroni Rivers.
Built in 1928 and weighing a hefty 7807 tons, she had left Falmouth Harbour for sea trials on 20 January, 1940, following repair work. Heading into the freshly mine-swept Falmouth Bay, she hit a mine laid by U-34.
All 55 people on board were rescued but attempts to tow the Caroni Rivers back to port failed and she sank.
Sections lay very close to the surface but the big wreck spent most of the war with buoys attached in the centre of the shipping lane into Falmouth Harbour.
In 1948, the 7450-ton Marlene was badly damaged when she hit the wreck, so the following year HMS Caldy cleared the area to a depth of 17m.
Within the flattened remains of the Caroni Rivers, the ex-diver said, lay parts of a small boiler, rumoured to be from an old steam trawler or tug. He thought this vessel had sunk while helping with salvage work on the tanker – but that a bronze deck-gun had been removed from it back in the 1960s, and sold for scrap.
The only armed trawler unaccounted for in Falmouth Bay was the St Ives – but she had reportedly sunk nearly two miles away.