Cook F.R Smith
Francis Robert Smith (universally known as “Bob”) was born on 16 July 1920 to a family with a long Royal Navy and Army tradition. The third eldest in a family of four brothers and one sister, he was educated at the Avenue Road School in Norwich.
Prior to joining-up in November 1938 he had worked locally on a laundry delivery van, and also in a shoe factory for a firm named Edwards & Holmes.
Bob joined the destroyer HMS Hotspur in February 1940, and remained a member of her crew until September 1942. With her he saw action at the first battle of Narvik (April 1940), Dunkirk (May 1940), the battle of Cape Matapan (March 1941), the evacuations of Greece and Crete (April & May 1941), the relief of Tobruk (late 1941), and escorting the Malta convoys as part of the famous Force ‘H’ (1940-1942).
Whilst at sea in August 1941, Bob lost part of one of his fingers in an accident as the crew were securing for action. As he hurried to his station, a hatch was closed behind him before he had managed to clear his hand away, crushing his middle finger. The resulting amputation was done the old-fashioned way: he was filled up with rum, his mangled finger placed over the back of a chair, and chop!
On 25 November 1941, the crews of Hotspur and the Australian ship HMAS Nizam rescued the survivors of the stricken battleship HMS Barham, which had been torpedoed and suffered a huge and catastrophic explosion in her magazine as she sank. Bob was also present a month later, when Hotspur (in company with HMS Hasty) attacked and sank U-79 on 23 December.
Volunteering as a submariner in 1943, Bob returned to sea aboard HMS Virtue. This took him back to the Mediterranean, where he was involved in a number of ship-to-ship actions, and then on to the Far East. He saw out the remainder of his World War 2 service aboard Virtue. Following the end of his duties in the Far East and finally on the long journey home, Bob contracted rheumatic fever and had to spend five weeks in hospital in Ceylon.
Following the war, Bob also served aboard the submarines HMS Taciturn, HMS Tantalus, HMS Artemis, HMS Tally Ho, HMS Sidon and finally HMS Affray.
When on leave, Bob often used to go sailing with two of his brothers on the Norfolk Broads, and enjoyed his darts and a game of crib.
Bob never married or had any children of his own, but was famous among his young nephews and nieces for his snake-charming trick. This consisted of a wicker basket containing the notoriously dangerous Bicycle Inner-Tube Snake, which could only be found in the darkest corners of the shed. After wrapping a tea towel around his head as a makeshift turban, he would switch off the lights, and have someone shine the beam of a torch onto the basket. Using a recorder Bob would then play a suitable tune, and proceed to amaze the children by charming the “snake” out from inside its basket, making it sway from side to side as he did so.
The more I learn about Affray the more it seems that amongst submariners she had a very bad reputation for endless problems and equipment failures, and as such was a vessel in which people generally did not want to go to sea. Bob was no exception. He spent his last leave at home in Norwich, returning to Affray the Sunday before she sailed. The last thing he said as he left was about going to sea; “I don’t care what ship it is, as long as it’s not the Affray.”
Following the Affray disaster in April, Bob’s mother Mary also died in May 1951. At the time Affray still had yet to be found. Due to the fact that Bob had been lost at sea and was unable to receive a proper Christian burial, his brothers and sister placed his photograph into his mother’s coffin.