Son pays tribute to adventurer "Taff"

A SLEIGHTS son of the sea who sailed on a voyage across the Atlantic with explorer Captain Jack Lammiman has died.

Hugh “Taff” Roberts (84) passed away last Thursday in Scarborough Hospital after a short illness although he had been unwell for a couple of years.

Mr Roberts who was a Royal Naval veteran enjoyed an active social life in the village with his wife Lillian and was involved in the village bowls club, over 50s swimming and was also a keen walker.

He moved to Sleights in the eighties to retire and the call of the sea almost claimed him when, in 1992, he joined the expedition led by Capt Lammiman on the Helga Maria to sail across the Atlantic Ocean.

Although aged 69, he proved a reliable and dependable member of the crew on this ill-fated voyage as the ship became lost at sea on its return journey, only to be found by a Greenland trawler well off course and two months late.

His son David paid tribute and said: “My dad was a much-loved and admired local figure and will be sadly missed by his many friends in these pursuits and especially those in the Whitby Probus association for which he was a regular and popular speaker.

“He was selfless, loving and generous almost to a fault.”

Born into poverty in Newborough, Anglesey, Mr Roberts lost his father at an early age.

Aged 11, knowing hardly any English, he was moved to East Anglia to a charity boarding school before joining the Royal Navy in 1939, just before the outbreak of war.

Apart from his excellent handwriting, his time at the Royal Hospital School also left him with a love of poetry which he enjoyed reciting throughout his life.

He went to war at sea as a young lad serving on HMS Ark Royal in the battle against the German battleship, Bismarck.

He was just a boy when HMS Ark Royal was torpedoed and sunk off Gibraltar and, until his death last week, he was one of only three survivors of the crew and recalled standing next to the captain on the bridge from where he watched the torpedo approach the ship.

Mr Roberts served in all the war zones, including the Mediterranean, the South China Sea and the North Atlantic in the fleet supporting the Russian Convoys, service for which he was awarded a special medal by Michael Gorbachev and the Soviet Government.

After the war, he returned to the UK and visited friends in Sunderland where he met future wife Lillian and the couple later had four children.

Approaching the end of his Royal Navy service, Mr Roberts was offered the opportunity to join the newly-established experimental diving team with the late Buster Crabbe.

For 16 years he operated as a clearance diver in bomb and mine disposal including removing live torpedoes from a Japanese submarine in Singapore Harbour and for his courage in the operation he was awarded the British Empire Medal.

The signed letter from the Queen apologising for being indisposed at the time, and therefore unable to decorate him personally, was one of his proudest possesions.

Mr Roberts’ earliest connection with Yorkshire occurred in the early 1950s when his bomb and mine disposal work was just beginning.

His team had decided an unexploded bomb off Scarborough had to be carefully detonated at sea – he straddled the bomb as it was lowered into the ocean and after the successful explosion the team returned to shore expecting a hero’s welcome, only to discover most of the seafront’s house windows had imploded making them rather less than popular.

Mr Robert’s Royal Navy career ended when he retired in 1964 and he and his family went to live in Leamington Spa, Warwickshire.

He lived and worked there for more than 20 years until the call of the sea overcame him again and he and Lillian retired properly and moved to Sleights.

Mr Roberts is survived by his wife Lillian, his sons David, John, Hugh, his daughter, Dilys, nine grandchildren and one great granddaughter.

His funeral will be held at St John’s Church in Sleights today.

His ashes will be scattered out at sea off Whitby next summer at his request.