OBITUARY: Stan Smith

Like his uncle, a member of the 11th Hussars who survived the Charge of the Light Brigade, Stan Smith was himself a survivor - and the last survivor of the "Black Hole of Baku". The story of this appalling incident was not given much publicity, but it bears comparison with the worst atrocities endured by prisoners of the Japanese in the Second World War.

Smith was one of 28 volunteers under Commander Bruce Fraser sent to Enzeli, a port on the Caspian Sea, just after the First World War, in an attempt to prevent the advance of the Bolshevik revolution into Georgia. The whole party was captured and incarcerated in two small earth-floored cells. They were forced to witness atrocities beyond the imagination of any but the depraved. Men and women were disembowelled and mutilated in front of the naval party and then shot.

They had been reported "Missing, believed killed"; they were starving, lousy and in rags. There had been death in the cells, where bodies were left to decompose. Eventually, after almost two years, Fraser was able to get a concealed message to the British ambassador, carried out by his Georgian interpreter. Out of the 28 fit volunteers, only 14 survived and two of these died on the hospital boat home.

At the beginning of the war Smith had enrolled as a 15-year-old in the Royal Navy. At the Battle of Jutland in 1916, he was a gun-layer in the destroyer HMS Spitfire when, during a torpedo attack on an enemy battleship, he was the only survivor of his gun's crew: his ship was hit several times, and he was badly wounded himself.

After recovering from a serious leg wound, Smith volunteered to join one of the "Q-ships" - old merchant ships with concealed guns. After fitting out, Q-12, the first Q-ship, left harbour to swing compasses and was promptly torpedoed by one of the U-boats she was intended to combat. Onboard the second Q-ship, Smith and his gun's crew faced a submarine's shelling until it came close enough to be itself sunk.

Smith's peacetime career saw him join a naval party searching for the lost Colonel Fawcett in the upper Amazon jungle, pirate hunting near Hong Kong, and four years' adventures on the China station, as well as a long commission based in Bermuda. Smith's memoirs, Sea of Memories (1985), read like yarns from Boy's Own.

Pensioned in 1939, Smith was recalled within a few weeks of his discharge, at the outbreak of the Second World War. With the rank of Chief Petty Officer he found himself second-in-command of the gunnery training ranges at Sheerness; his batteries defended the Thames estuary and he was frequently under direct air-attack. Smith was responsible for the construction of one of the first Commando Training Courses, as Chief Gunnery Instructor. He was retired a second time at the end of hostilities.

Stan Smith maintained correspondence with his former commander, Bruce Fraser. They were the last two survivors of the "Black Hole of Baku". Smith, by then in a wheelchair, was the guest of the Royal Navy in 1990 when the Duke of Edinburgh unveiled a bust of Admiral of the Fleet Lord Fraser of North Cape in Portsmouth Dockyard. The Duke accepted a copy of Smith's autobiography and Smith was presented with the Union Flag which had veiled the statue.

Geoffrey Kemble Johnson

William Stanley Smith, naval officer: born Beccles, Suffolk 23 March 1899; married 1936 Laura Flowerdew (two sons, one daughter); died Beccles 30 November 1995.

PROMOTED VIDEO
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

COO / Chief Operating Officer

£80 - 100k + Bonus: Guru Careers: A COO / Chief Operating Officer is needed to...

HR Manager - Kent - £45,000

£40000 - £45000 per annum: Ashdown Group: HR Manager / Training Manager (L&D /...

HR Manager - Edgware, London - £45,000

£40000 - £45000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: HR Manager - Edgware, Lon...

HR Manager - London - £40,000 + bonus

£32000 - £40000 per annum + bonus: Ashdown Group: HR Manager (Generalist) -Old...

Day In a Page

Secret politics of the weekly shop

The politics of the weekly shop

New app reveals political leanings of food companies
Beam me up, Scottie!

Beam me up, Scottie!

Celebrity Trekkies from Alex Salmond to Barack Obama
Beware Wet Paint: The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition

Beware Wet Paint

The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition
Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

Can 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition?
Sanctuary for the suicidal

Sanctuary for the suicidal

One mother's story of how London charity Maytree helped her son with his depression
A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

Not That Kind of Girl:

A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

Model mother

Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

Apple still the coolest brand

Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits