Rob Roy McGregor, Three Wars, and The Sinking of the Lisbon Maru (Part 1)

The Lisbon Maru

As anyone will know who has read these pages recently, I have been helping a Documentary Film Company to research the descendants of the Lisbon Maru, a Japanese armed Merchantman being used to transport captured Commonwealth personnel in WW2, that was sunk by US Submarine Grouper without knowledge of its cargo of prisoners.  As part of this research I have also been tracing the descendants of members of the Grouper’s crew  in the USA.USS_Grouper;0821405

Doing such detective work always brings up some interesting finds, and reinforces the overwhelming part that chance plays in historical events, ranging from an ancestor taking a ship going one way rather than another, or macro-events in world history having an influence on micro-decisions in Family History, that generations later put various players into contact with each other on the world stage or the field of battle.

One such story was with the tracing of the descendants (still ongoing) of the Skipper of the Grouper, Rob Roy McGregor.  Rob Roy McGregor was a brave, highly skilled and intrepid submarine Commander, winning three Silver Stars for sinking and damaging more than 36,000 tons of enemy shipping in the Pacific during WW2.  RunSilentRunDeep

He eventually retired as a Rear Admiral, and acted as Military advisor on the film Run Silent, Run Deep, starring Clark Gable and Burt Lancaster.

However the quirks of history that put him in that submarine on the fateful day go right back into his Scottish Ancestry and make for interesting reading, including three wars but NOT, alas, his namesake Rob Roy McGregor the Highland Outlaw!

NOT Rob Roy McGregor The Outlaw!

One of the sad things about family history from a professional point of view is that people seem obsessed with finding someone famous in their Family Tree, to the point of fantasy.  Ignoring both evidence, and lack of evidence, connections are made on the back of wishful thinking and a need to feel a connection to someone “important”.  This was brought to the fore in the McGregor Family research where everyone seems to want to be descended from the Outlaw Rob Roy McGregor.

Having looked into the Family Tree, I can honestly say that there is no evidence at all for a direct descent from the Outlaw Rob Roy McGregor to the Submarine Commander Rob Roy McGregor.  The family of the Submarine Commander first come into the historical as Lowland Scots living in Govan from the 1600s, as McGreggars, a different etymology, a different area of Scotland – way further south than the Outlaw, and at best only a tenuous link to the Clan name to connect them, which by definition, is not the same as a name that has a genetic relationship with the surname (anyone could take a Clan Name, it was an act of social or political allegiance to a particular leader, not necessarily a sign of a genetic relationship).

17th & 18th McGreggars

185_a_18[1]Govan where these McGreggars came from, was on the Southbank of the Clyde and would in future generations become part of Glasgow. During the 17th and 18th centuries it was a Lowland Coal and Iron Mining area, families not engaged in mining  worked as Weavers making cloth for women to turn into clothes for the menfolk working in the mines, and for selling on to more densely populated areas such as Barony on the North of the Clyde (later to become the core of Glasgow) and to Edinburgh.

We know our McGreggars plied their trade as Weavers in this area for many generations, becoming skilled hand loom weavers, mainly supplying the local demand, alternating with Salmon Fishing in the Clyde when times were hard in the Weaving Industry.  During the 18th Century Weaving was mainly a limited home based activity, and Scotland would lag slightly behind England in Industrialising.


Not so “Bonnie” Prince Charlie

In 1745 parts of the Highlands rose in rebellion against the Hanoverian Crown of Great Britain, but contrary to popular myth, this rising was not universally followed by Scots.  It was especially unpopular with three main groups, the mainly Presbyterian Protestant Working Classes of Lowland Scotland, the City dwelling Middle Class Commercial interests who feared disruption to trade, and the Lowland Political Upper Classes who held their positions subject to the British Crown.  Glasgow in particular was very unsupportive of Bonnie Prince Charlie and what they considered his uncivilised and ragged arsed Highlanders. It can be safely surmised that the McGreggars would have been hostile to the uprising being both Lowlanders and Protestants.


After having a request rebuffed by the Burghers of Glasgow for substantial sums of money to support his cause, Bonnie Prince Charlie blew through Glasgow, coming in like a warm wind, trying to win the Gentry over with Balls and Socialising, but left like a cold breeze, having failed to win new friends.  Frustrated that he couldn’t raise substantial sums of money from the Town, he demanded that the Town provided his men with new cloth outfits to replace the weather worn cloths they had arrived in, effectively raising a tax paid in cloth and garments against the local people, which would have hit the McGreggars as weavers and providers of cloth.  This wasn’t forgotten in Glasgow, and the Town subsequently provided a Militia that fought for the British/Hanoverian Crown against the Jacobites in a number of engagements.

As the 1700s progressed, rebellion was put down, and Georgian Great Britain became pre-eminent.  The main problems faced by the McGreggars was ensuring their living standards were kept up, as by the late 1700s a Master Weaver could earn up to £100 per year (over £170,000 in today’s money), these profits were driven by demand for good cloth in the North American Colonies .  Journeymen weavers like the McGregors could earn a good wage, but in the 1780s Master Weavers operated a cartel, and began to suppress the wages they paid to the journeymen weavers they employed.

This came to a head in 1787 when the Journeymen Weavers rioted in Calton, breaking their Masters’ machines and burning the contents of cloth warehouses.  Unsuccessful attempts by Glasgow Council to suppress the riots with local law officers made the panicked Council call in Regular Troops, the 39th Regiment of Foot, who although called The East Middlesex Regiment, had an elderly Colonel from a Scots family and was mainly comprised of Irishmen.  Given that Great Britain had lost her thirteen Colonies in America a few years before, and riots had caused havoc in London a few years before, riots were always severely reacted to, so a Magistrate “Read The Riot Act” and when the Weavers still refused to disperse, the troops opened fire killing three rioters and wounding many others.  The small number of casualties is an indication that the Troops didn’t exactly have their hearts in it, being mainly Irish with a Scots Colonel, and had little appetite for shooting unarmed civilians, other than to make sure that the civilians in question didn’t look to exercise violence in their direction.  Various other outbreaks of riots were subsequently dispersed by the troops with no fatalities.


Early 19th Century Weavers and Industrialisation

The coming of the 19th Century brought more intensive weaving practices to Govan with a Silk Mill being erected in 1824, and Steam Power coming in to the Mills to enhance production.  The days of the Hand Loom weavers working from home were numbered as more and more skilled workers were drawn to the Mills.  The downside was the loss of independence, a gradual depression of wages, and once Steam power was introduced to drive the weaving looms, a greater element of industrial danger.

Glasgow in the early 1800s showed a pattern of gradual deterioration for the Weavers, more Riots flared against low wages and automation pitching small scale weavers against the factories and their workers, but all such risings were quelled by the military, to the advantage of the Factory owners.  The situation became bad enough for the Government to give paid assistance in 1820 and 1821 for Glaswegian Weavers to emigrate to Canada.  The McGreggars changed their name to fit the more common form of McGregor, and held on in Glasgow.  The Calton Weavers developed a reputation for violent disorder.

By the 1840s the situation became particularly bad for the Weavers, with low wages, and job pressure during the Irish Potato Famine in the late 1840s, when the Factory owners were able to take in many Irish Immigrants on low wages.  To make matters worse, some factory owners made a point of mainly employing women and children as they could pay them less than men.  Despite this the McGregors still managed to get by, but were feeling the pinch.  In addition sectarian rivalries began to grow as Irish Catholic Immigrants  vied with Scots Protestants for jobs and living space.

The McGregors were by the 1850s and into the 1860s spread across, Calton, Barony, and Gorbals whole families of McGregors working in the factories with parents working as Hand and Power Loom Weavers, and Cotton Yarn Dressers, and older children working as “Twisters”.  Even before compulsory education was introduced, the McGregors adhered to their Presbyterian Roots, unlike many Weavers they ensured that their younger children all received an education.  However the McGregors must have felt increasingly alienated and marginalised in the strange new Glasgow they now lived in.  The Population had quadrupled in 50 years, and living conditions became overcrowded and intolerable.


The Impact of the American Civil War

When the Confederacy fired on Fort Sumter on April 12th 1861, it not only raised the curtain on hostilities between the states that would last until 1865, but as a by-product of the North’s blockade of the South, the war collapsed the cotton weaving trade across Great Britain, almost to the point where Great Britain considered entering the War on the Confederate side to break the blockade (it was only the issue of slavery that prevented this).

In Glasgow the Cotton Weaving Trade had already been hit by a world financial crisis in the late 1850s, to be followed by a 90% drop in raw Cotton imports in the 1860s.  This wiped out the small scale hand loom weavers, and forced the big factories to lay off hundreds of workers.  To make matters worse, the authorities in Scotland took a different view to the English when it came to granting temporary relief to the able bodied unemployed, in England it was usually the case that the unemployed could receive some food and shelter for them and their families via the workhouse, or even temporary “outdoor” relief which didn’t require being in the Workhouse, and as bad as the reputation of the Workhouses were, they did temporarily ward off starvation.  By contrast in Scotland many authorities by a strict and penny pinching view of the rules, refused to give any relief to unemployed able bodied men or their families.  This caused a crisis, and lead to a partial relaxing of the rules, especially as many philanthropists donating directly to help the poor, throwing opprobrium on the inaction of the Scots’ Civic Authorities.

annan thomas old B20090 12[1]

Such a collapse for the McGregors, meant at best hardship, and at worst destitution and starvation.  Any working members of the family could support those not working for short periods, but unemployment going on for years was something the family couldn’t survive.  By the end of the American Civil War, the Cotton factories in England had found other sources for Cotton, notably from Egypt, and the Northern US Cotton Mills had survived by temporarily switching to Wool and turning out Military Uniforms for the Northern Armed Forces.  Unfortunately the Cotton Factories in Glasgow made little use of the first source, and couldn’t adapt to the second, and so never fully recovered from the collapse in the Market.

Leaving for America

The McGregors were left with few options if they wanted a reasonable standard of living.  Perhaps the most adventurous and most risky was emigration to America.  It was this option that a number of the Family members went for.

Archibald arrived in 1854, and found work in Lawrence Massachusetts as an Operative in a Weaving Mill.  He would be listed on the Union Military draft of 1863.

Helen McGregor married Currie Anderson in Glasgow, Currie followed his Brother-in-Law Archibald, arriving in the States in 1859 as a Gas Fitter, before joining the 4th Battalion Massachusetts Infantry in 1862. Before returning and working as an operative in a Lawrence Mill.

Still Pictures ID: 64-M-191 Rediscovery number: 06989 06989_2008_001

By 1860 Moses McGregor was a Weaver in Andover Massachusetts.

James was in Portsmouth Massachusetts in the 1860s, he married Ann Craig in Lawrence Massachusetts in 1867 and worked as a Mill Operative.

All of these McGregors raised families in Massachusetts.  So the American Civil War, unlike the Jacobite risings, had a direct impact on the trajectory of the McGregors, both in affecting their job opportunities in Scotland, and their settlement in the USA, as well as pitching some of the family into actual fighting.

It is no accident that the McGregors made for Massachusetts, and Lawrence in particular, as the settlement along the Merrimac River had been built as a commercial enterprise with trade in mind.  By the eve of the US Civil War, Lawrence was a bustling manufacturing hub, with Factories lining the riverside.


In Part 2 we will see how our line of the Family progressed from James McGregor and Agnes Craig.






Submarine E15

Gallipoli, James Bond 1915 style, from Peckham to a Turkish Prison Camp


Chimney Sweeps and The Workhouse

On 12th March 1887 Henry William Trimmer was born to a family of Chimney Sweeps, he was my Grandmother’s brother.  He was the 4th Henry William in a direct line of henry Williams. His Father, Henry William the 3rd had been born in Leytonstone workhouse, one of the most notorious in England.  Official reports told stories of children so malnourished that they drank from soapy puddles in the laundry to try to get by.  His itinerant Chimney Sweep Father, Henry William 2nd had rescued him, his half Brothers and Mother, and the boys had gone to South London where they were apprenticed to the harsh world of boy chimney sweeps. 

Henry William 2nd had enough of this and in the 1880s joined the Royal Marines at Chatham, it isn’t clear if he saw action, and his records seem to have gone missing, but he managed to get Eliza Sanders, the sister of one of his friends in the Royal Marines pregnant in 1883, her baby would be my Grandmother.  A year after she was born the couple married, and Henry William 2nd left the Marines, and set up home, itinerantly moving from lettings to lettings in Peckham, Camberwell and Lambeth.   They had eight children but it is their first son, and second child Henry William 4th whom we are concerned with here.

Hard Times, but The Royal Navy to the Rescue

Destitute Boys’ Royal Navy Training Ship Arethusa at Greenhithe

Times were hard, the family were constantly on the move from rented digs to rented digs, doing a “midnight flit” every time the rent money ran out, they possessed hardly anything, so loading up and moving on didn’t take long.  Henry William had been apprenticed to a Fishmonger at 14, but that had not come to anything, and he ended up destitute but had the good fortune to be taken on to the TS Arethusa (Royal Navy Training Ship Arethusa), moored at Greenhithe on the South Bank of the Thames, and known as refuge for homeless and destitute Boys.  It is most likely that his Father and Uncle’s service as Royal Marines had opened the way for him to be accepted.

Henry William’s time on Arethusa served him well, as in 1905 as a man, on his 18th birthday, he signed up for the Royal Navy at his Father’s old depot of Chatham, just further downriver fromGreenhithe, and worked his way up from Boy, to Ordinary Seaman, to Able Seaman, to Leading Seaman.  And what a career he had in 1905 aged 18 he sailed to China on HMS Hogue, and spent a year at sea, coming home with a tatoo of a Japanese “Lady” on his right bicep!

HMS Hogue
HMS Hogue Henry William Trimmer’s trip to China

On his return, after some retraining, he started his career as a submariner, first posted to HMS Thames, a Submarine support ship, then Vulcan and Hebe, similar ships.  With the birth of his first daughter, Irene Florence in 1911, Henry purchased his exit from the Navy moved back to South East London, but joined the Royal Fleet Reserves, ready for call up if required, and sure enough, come the outbreak of hostilities in 1914 Henry William was back in the Navy aboard Submarine E15.  His family followed him to the Royal Naval Dockyards at Sheerness on the Isle of Sheppey in Kent, and his last daughter Dorothy was born there in 1914.


Henry William was bright and able and experienced.  He was posted directly to a brand new Submarine E15 looked after by the Dolphin depot ship.

The Commanding Officer of Submarine E15 was Lieutenant Commander Theodore Stuart Brodie whose twin brother Lieutenant Commander Charles G Brodie commanded another Submarine. The twins were nicknamed ‘Dummy Head’ and ‘War Head’ respectively by their men and fellow officers. Unfortunately for Henry he got Dummy Head as his Captain.  Despite his career commanding submarine’s  C36, C33, and D8, Dummy Head did not get his nickname without reason. Submarine E15 would have one of the shortest careers of the 56 E Class Submarines in action during WWI.

E Class Submarine

Initially Henry served aboard her with the North Sea Fleet based out of Harwich.  Dummy Head’s lack of luck lead to Able Seaman George Morris being lost overboard in November 1914, losing a man overboard from a submarine certainly takes some doing.  In 1915 E15 was sent with a flotilla of submarines to the Mediterranean, including AE2 an Australian Sub of the same class, they were serviced by HMS Adamant.  At the Island of Lemnos, they were joined by Lieutenant Clarence Edward Stanhope Palmer RNVR.  he had previously been with the diplomatic corps at Chanak in Turkey, and to all intents and purposes was a Government Special Agent, gathering knowledge of the entrance to the Dardanelles, the location of Turkish Sea Mines, and fluent in the Turkish language, he was an early James Bond type figure, brought in for what appears to be a secret mission on E15, it being remarked on how insistent he was with Dummy Head to make sure he got on board as “an extra hand”.  That night they sailed for the Dardanelles.

Inside an E Class

Stealthily E15 inched through the straits to get into Turkish waters in the Sea of Marmora, as the spearhead of an allied invasion force.  However despite having Clarence Palmer  on board to help with the approach to the channel, Dummy Head and the ship’s navigator, managed to have the E15 steered into a strong current which its silently operating electric engines were not strong enough to counter, at 07.00 on 17th April 1915 the Ship’s Telegraphist recorded :

“Everything going well until about 7am when we struck and, despite all that could be done, we were soon high and dry. The Turkish batteries then opened fire on us one large shell entering our conning tower and killing the captain as he was going on the bridge. Several shells came through the boat, one entering the engines and bursting several oil pipes, thick smoke began to come from aft, but we could not see what had happened there.

The men then began to go up the conning tower and through the shell hole and take to the water. The boat was about three-quarters of a mile from the shore and this distance we had to swim. Several men would not attempt it and I think it was because of this that so many were injured.”

E15 had run aground at Kephez Point, directly under the Guns of the Turkish Fort Dardanus, Electric Engines labouring vainly against the current.  The Turkish shelling took out the unlucky Dummy Head Brodie as he climbed the conning tower to assess the situation, and five more crew were killed and  seven injured by shelling and asphyxiation by smoke and chlorine gas released from the damaged electrical drive batteries onboard.

Around half a century later on a sunny morning in Silcote Road Peckham, I sat with my Dad and Uncles as usual, reading the Victor comic, not knowing that my Great Uncle was featured in it.

But the story didn’t end with the shelling of E15.


Henry was no slouch, he, with Clarence Palmer and most of the rest of the crew who were still in one piece, climbed up the conning tower and slipped out underwater through the shell hole before swimming the best part of a mile to shore, fortunately for them the same current that Dummy Head had lead them to, took pity on them, and helped them make it to shore, where the Turks quickly surrounded them and took them prisoner.  Their dead mates were buried on the beach.  The Telegraphist writes again:

“After their capture the survivors were marched to Chenak (Chanak) and were kept in a cowshed overnight. The following day they were placed in better conditions. On Wednesday 21st April the survivors were put on a Gunboat at Chenak and were taken to Constantinople arriving on 22nd April and being taken to the Stamboul Prison.

Four days later, on Monday 26th April, the crew were taken to Haidar Pasha by ferry and then on to Ess Kicheher by train – where they stayed overnight. On the 27th April the train journey continued on to Afion Kara Hissar in the Asia mainland of Turkey and, on Wednesday 28th April they were moved into the Bermin Mosque School Camp.”

Henry spent the rest of the war in Turkish Prison camps, and would be joined by the crew of an Australian submarine that had been part of their original flotilla.  Their treatment was generally OK by the Turkish soldiers, and they were regularly visited by the Red Cross, received food and provision parcels, some of which they traded with their Turkish guards to get information and News Papers to find out what was happening in the War.  The men were fortunate to have Clarence Palmer with them, the secret service agent, who, being fluent in Turkish could speak with the guards and read the Turkish papers.  Despite this, conditions were harsh, and one officer and seven men died during their captivity.  But Leading Seaman Trimmer was a man from Peckham who had grown up with deprivation and hardship, he would get through the whole thing and return relatively unscathed considering what he’d been through.

Although the Turks treated the men and officers equally, it seems that the British Authorities didn’t.  For at the end of the war our Secret Service Agent Clarence Palmer is decorated with the Distinguished Service Cross (DSC) for the part he played in the action, simply because he took on the mission knowing the dangers, which is funny really, as no such medals went to Henry Trimmer or his mates, it’s an indication of not only friends in high places, but perhaps a reward for a more covert mission?  One Catholic Officer, Geoffrey Joseph Frederick Fitzgerald, the E15’s navigator had an intervention from the Pope that got him released early, with further decorations and cushy jobs after the war.  Henry and his shipmates came home to no cushy jobs or outstanding decorations, they were just de-mobbed and set back on the streets.  Even Dummy Head, who had got them wrecked and captured with about a dozen dead, was eulogised like a hero despite his incompetence.  So the secret service agent who was onboard to give intelligence on the entrance to the Dardanelles, in terms of access and minefields, the Navigator who was meant to steer them through, and the Captain who was meant to use his judgement to keep them out of harm, i.e. the three men who effectively failed in their duties were eulogised while the men who suffered for their Officers’ joint failures got nothing. In the words of the music hall song that the men would have been aware of:

“It’s the same the whole world over,

It’s the poor what gets the blame,

It’s the rich what gets the pleasure,

Isn’t it a blooming shame!”

The picture below shows the crew after their capture.  From what I can make out, Henry William Trimmer, my Great Uncle is the man standing with a face like thunder in the centre of the photo third prisoner from the right, behind and just to the side of the seated officer.

Embed from Getty Images

While the men were being marched into captivity the British Navy set about destroying the evidence before the Turks and their German advisors could get too much intelligence about the E15.  They had already boarded the stranded E15 as can be seen from the picture below.

Wreck of Submarine E15 inspected by the Turks and a German Officer

The reason was given as being to stop the Turks salvaging, repairing, and re-commissioning the E15, which is definitely true, but the efforts the Navy went to were extreme, including shelling by warships, attacks with Torpedoes by other subs (including one with Dummy Head’s more competent brother “War Head” along for the ride), a bombing raid by aircraft, and finally a successful attack from small picket boats with torpedoes. A gigantic effort, and one where the submarine used to attack the wreck got stuck on the same bank that the E15 had, but managed to get itself free, so the risks were extreme.  It begs the question;  was this really just to keep E15 out of the Turk’s hands?  Or perhaps there were other secrets onboard, associated with the mission of the Secret Service Agent?  Perhaps Geoffrey Fitzgerald’s release at the request of the Pope was more than just compassion based for a fellow Catholic in hard times, perhaps he brought information with him from Clarence Palmer?


When Henry William Trimmer came home, his story took further twists.  He was obviously wily and resourceful, and managed to get himself made a Police Constable in Margate, no doubt using his Naval contacts as references.  In  1921 he manages to use his contacts to finagle his way into the local Free Mason’s Lodge, causing a minor scandal at the time, and a letter was written from the Provincial Grand Lodge to the Local Lodge complaining about the initiation of “Brother Trimmer”, as it was done despite permission having been previously refused by the Chief Constable.  This was put down to an “error” and Henry was allowed to retain his position, but was not allowed to be promoted to further positions without express permission from the Chief Constable.  Why the Chief Constable refused him permission to become a Free Mason in the first place is unclear, but as much as you can take the boy out of Peckham, you can’t take Peckham out of the boy, and with a total lack of regard for the middle class rules, Henry gets in any way, and not only that but keeps his position in both Police and Free Masons.  Well done Henry.  Did he still have contacts people in high and dark places like Clarence Palmer?

In 1924 Henry has had enough of England, and moves with his family to Australia, to join his Mother and siblings who had gone out there in 1908, and where his Father had died whilst Henry was a POW in Turkey.  Having spent time with the Australian prisoners in Turkey, perhaps Henry once again used his contacts help get out to the Antipodes? Henry would eventually die in Australia in 1969, having spent more than half of his life there.

There are obviously unanswered questions concerning the role of the E15, Clarence Palmer, and Henry’s relationship with him, perhaps one day Time Detectives will get to the bottom of it?

….oh, and just to top it off, one of the Stokers on E15 was called…..James Bond…what a happy coincidence!

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