Exactly 100 years ago today a north-east ship with 15 crew members on-board was torpedoed, killing all on board, in the final attack by a German U-boat during World War I.
Now a relative of Aberdeen sailor Alexander Dunbar Fraser – who died in the tragedy – has told of how she unearthed his story and made contact with his grandchildren a century after the events.
Jacky Rodger, of Kent, discovered the tale of the SS Aberdon whilst researching the history of her north-east family.
The steamer – built by the city’s Alexander Hall and Sons in 1911 – was sunk near the coast at St Abb’s on March 9, 1915 by the infamous U-12 submarine.
The ship – helmed by Aberdeen captain, Alexander Ross – had been transporting coal from Seaham, Country Durham, to the granite city when it was struck from around 1,300ft away.
It took just four minutes to sink.
Ms Rodger’s ancestor, Jeannie Stephen, of Rosemount, had married merchant seaman Mr Fraser, on August 5 1914.
He was just 27 when he died, and his body, along with those of his 14 co-workers, was never recovered.
Mr Fraser’s wife named their son, born on August 5 1914, after him, after which she married another seaman, Thomas Rudd.
It is likely he never knew his bride was pregnant with their son.
Ms Rodger, a former book editor, said: “This time last year I didn’t know anything at all about how my family had been involved in the war. I wondered how it had actually affected us.
“I decided to track everyone down in time for the centenary of the war in August and Jeannie was the cousin of my great-granny. I have done hours and hours of research.”
She made contact with Mr Fraser’s grandson, Stephen Fraser, her fourth cousin, after his brother posted a request for information on the Aberdon on an online forum.
Ms Rodger added: “The grandson of the able-seaman had put something on a website asking people if they knew anything about the Aberdon and it was enough for me to make contact.
“I think absolutely any ship was vulnerable at the time. There was no modern equipment.
“He probably didn’t even know she was pregnant. Jeannie was widowed and remarried and took the family to New Zealand.”
It is thought that the SS Aberdon was targeted a mere 18 hours before the U-12 was sunk by three British destroyers.
Throughout the war, the seas were treacherous with German forces attempting to cut off British resources by targeting supply ships, cargo vessels and trawlers.
It would be another 93 years before the wreckage of the U-12 was discovered by divers, who also came across the ruins of what they believe to be the Aberdon.
Following the incident, a stained glass window was erected in honour of Mr Ross in the city’s St Clement’s Parish Church depicting Christ and St Peter on the sea of Galilee.
An inscription was fitted alongside the new window, which read: “To the glory of God and in loving memory of Alexander Ross, shipmaster, who lost his life at the post of duty when his ship was sunk by his country’s enemies – March 9, 1915. Dedicated by his loving wife.”