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Last survivor of the Royal Oak tragedy dies

16 December 2016
There are now no living links with one of the Navy’s greatest tragedies of WW2 after the last survivor of battleship HMS Royal Oak, Arthur Smith, died.

The ship was sunk in the Royal Navy’s wartime base of Scapa Flow in Orkney; German submarine U-47 slipped through the defences in the dead of night in October 1939 and torpedoed the battleship at anchor.

The Royal Oak sank in just 13 minutes, taking 833 men down with her – including 134 boy seamen, prompting a national outcry at the heavy loss of lives.

Seaman Arthur Smith would more than likely have joined them, entombed in the sunken ship, but the 17-year-old was on watch manning an anti-aircraft gun.

As Royal Oak increasingly listed to starboard, Mr Smith chose to dive into the cold waters of Scapa; he was subsequently picked up by a rescue craft.

Mr Smith, who lived in Middlesex, died on Sunday December 10 aged 94.

Despite the distance from Orkney, he regularly attended commemorations at Scapa, including the dedication of the Royal Oak memorial, into his 90s.

He was also proud of his links with the former training establishment for boys in HMS St Vincent; of the 134 boys lost in the Royal Oak tragedy, 125 had passed through the now-defunct Gosport establishment.

Due to his regular presence at the remembrance events at Scapa, Mr Smith built up a close relationship with many members of the RN’s Northern Diving Group, who are given the honour of changing the White Ensign on Royal Oak’s wreck – an official war grave.

As a result, four divers are making the lengthy journey from Faslane to South West Middlesex Crematorium, Hanworth, for Mr Smith’s funeral which takes place on Thursday December 22 at 1pm.

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