Frederick ROTCHELL – HMS Opal WWI

Acton Village, Chester Road, Wrexham c1930

James Henry Rotchell was born about 1872 in Bloxwich, Staffordshire.  He was the son of Thomas Rotchell and Roseanna Dewy.

 In 1895 he married Sarah Jane Felton in Newport, Shropshire. The couple moved to Wrexham where James Henry found work as a gardener for Rev Henry Fletcher,  they were living in the cottage next to the Vicarage on Rhosddu Road. By 1911 they had 6 children and had moved to Saxon Street where they lived for many years. James Henry continued to work for the Rev Henry Fletcher.  Their son   Frederick James joined the Navy in 1916.

On 25 January 1918 there was an announcement on the Llangollen Advertiser.

DROWNED. Seaman Fred. Rotchell, of H.M.S. Opal, son of Mr. Rotchell. gardener to Archdeacon Fletcher, The Rectory,  Marchwiel,  was one of the crew that were drowned when she and a sister ship were wrecked in a snow storm off the coast of Scotland, a week last Saturday. An impressive memorial service was conducted on Sunday by Archdeacon Fletcher.

An amazing amount of research has been done.  Fred was the great-uncle of Jane Brady, from Frodsham, near Chester, whose husband, Kieran, has looked into Fred’s story. Kieran has kindly allowed me to use his information and images from his website.

Frederick James Rotchell was born on 8 February 1898 at the Vicarage Stables, Wrexham. He had six siblings, Ivy (who died before him), Charles Leonard, Arthur, Ethel Mary, Lucy May and Rose Hanna. His father, James Henry Rotchell, was gardener to Archdeacon Fletcher at the Rectory in Marchwiel. The family lived at 13 Saxon Street, in Hightown.

Frederick attended the Victoria School and hoped to become a carpenter, but put his career on hold to help the war effort. He enlisted with the Royal Navy on 14 December 1916 and trained at HMS Victory, Portsmouth. His service record tells us that he was 1.6m tall (5ft 3ins) and had brown hair and grey eyes.

On 26 February 1917, he joined HMS Opal, an M-class Destroyer. On the night of 12 January 1918, HMS Opal and sister ship HMS Narborough escorted a light cruiser from their base at Scapa Flow, Orkney, on patrol against enemy mine-layers. During a violent storm, the destroyers turned back to base but visibility was very poor and both vessels hit the coast of South Ronaldsay. Of the combined crew of 189, only one survived. A Court of Inquiry found that the accident was due to the “want of seamanlike caution in making the land … and should not have been attempted in the weather conditions at the time”.

Fred, an Ordinary Seaman, was 19 years old. His body was never found. He is commemorated on the Portsmouth Naval Memorial.

The brass nameplate from Fred’s “ditty box” (which held his possessions on board ship) still survives. It was discovered by an Orkney resident in a cormorants’ nest, which the birds had lined with small materials from the shipwreck.

HMS OPAL, was an Admiralty M class destroyer, which served in the First World War following her construction at Sunderland in 1915. Attached to the 12th Destroyer Flotilla based with the Grand Fleet at Scapa Flow, the OPAL had an eventful short life, which ended tragically in shipwreck when she was just two and a half years old. On the 12 January 1918 OPAL joined her sister ship HMS Narborough and the light cruiser HMS Boadicea in a night patrol to hunt German auxiliary warships suspected to be laying mines on the Scottish coast. By 5.30pm the weather had deteriorated to such an extreme degree that the destroyers were in danger of swamping and foundering and visibility was near zero. Fearing that her companions might sink, the Boadicea ordered the OPAL and Narborough back to Scapa Flow while she continued alone. For the next four hours OPAL regularly sent reports indicating her course and intention to return, but at 9.27pm, a garbled message stating have run aground was received, followed by silence. The weather was so atrocious that no vessels could be despatched until the following morning, and it was two days before the OPAL was found, battered, broken and empty on the Clett of Crura. The Narborough was found in a similar position nearby. One survivor was later located on a small islet, and he related that the ships had been sailing a regular slow course making frequent soundings and radio reports, but had suddenly crashed headlong in to the rocks, probably due to a navigation error by the OPAL´s captain. Both wrecks were abandoned and broken up by the sea over the next few weeks taking the bodies of both crews, bar the single survivor, with them.

http://www.kbrady.com/opal.html (Please take a look at this website)

Researched by Annette Edwards, with many thanks to Keiran Brady. September 2019.

SARAH JANE ROTCHELL, 13 SAXON STREET, WREXHAM, WHO PASSED AWAY JUNE 20TH, 1942 IN HER 69TH YEAR. ALSO JAMES HENRY ROTCHELL, 5 BRON-Y-DRE, WREXHAM, WHO PASSED AWAY OCT 19TH, 1954. AGED 82 YEARS. ALSO IVY ROTCHELL, WHO DIED SEPT 25TH, 1913. AGED 3 YEARS. ALSO FREDERICK J. ROTCHELL, WHO LOST HIS LIFE AT SEA JAN 12TH 1918. AGED 20 YEARS.

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Also see here.

Grave ref: Wrexham Cemetery R-04881