‘To Stan from Flo’ – 90-year-old love story that neither time nor tide could tarnish
HMS Opal foundered on rocks in 1918, killing 187 seamen
By JOHN ROSS
STANLEY Cubiss had been married for less than a year when he perished with 187 other men in a wartime tragedy. He died when HMS Opal crashed into rocks 90 years ago, in one of the most violent storms to hit Orkney.
And with the 25-year-old went the future he had planned with his wife Florence – and a ring she had given him just two years before.
For the next 89 years the gold band lay buried on the seabed until it was found by chance by a diver, who at first thought it was a worthless piece of metal.
But when it was realised it was a poignant connection to one of the drowned crew and his widowed sweetheart an investigation was launched.
Yesterday the ring was back in Orkney, where it will stay as an exhibit in a museum dedicated to wartime memorabilia.
Mr Cubiss was working in the engine room of the destroyer when it sank, along with HMS Narborough, after running ashore at Windwick Bay, South Ronaldsay, in a blizzard in January, 1918.
Last year, amateur diver Peter Brady picked up a piece of metal he originally thought was a piece of HMS Opal’s plumbing.
Returning to the surface he found it was a gold ring bearing the inscription “To Stanley from Flo, March 1916”.
After finding the ship’s casualty list on the internet, Mr Brady and diving partner, Bob Hamilton, found there were two Stanleys on board, including Ernest Stanley Cubiss, husband of Florence.
The list also mentioned he was from Keighley, west Yorkshire, and the pair eventually tracked down Mr Cubiss’s nephew, Malcolm Cubiss, 78, a retired brigadier, who lives near York.
Mr Cubiss’s nephew has now donated the ring, along with other artefacts including photographs and medals, to the Scapa Flow Visitor Centre on the Orkney island of Hoy.
Peter Brady, who handed over the ring to the museum yesterday, said: “I was just scraping around in the sand when it suddenly popped up.
“At first I thought it was the sort of copper pipe fitting a plumber might use. But I put it on my finger and brought it up to the surface for a closer look. And that’s when I noticed the hallmark and realised this was something pretty special.”
Mr Hamilton added: “When we saw it the hairs on the back of my neck stood on end and the happy mood on the boat changed to something far more sombre. It seemed incredible Peter should have found something so small and so perfect – and that the inscription should still be so clearly visible.”
Mr Cubiss said he was amazed when the divers turned up with the ring.
He added: “If I had kept this ring which was kindly offered to me I would have only put it in a drawer, and in time it would have been thrown out or sold.
“I had one or two other pieces, medals and photos and other things, and it struck me that if there is a museum there then that would be a much more appropriate place for them.”
Florence, who died aged 82 in 1971, was the great aunt of retired pilot Michael Foster, 65, from Windlesham, near Ascot.
Yesterday he was shown the ring for the first time. He said: “It’s lovely, but I dare not touch it. I take a great interest in the history of my family, so this is a very emotional moment for me.
“This was a desperate tragedy and it’s very, very sad that two people’s lives should have been torn apart in this way.”
After so many years on the seabed, the ring is still in near perfect condition.
Janette Park, curator of social history with the Orkney Museums Service, said: “It brings the reality of the loss of so many lives into sharp focus. And it makes you reflect on how all the hopes of a young couple were shattered by one night of bad weather.”
HMS Opal had a short, eventful life that ended just two and a half years after she was built in 1915. The destroyer served with the Grand Fleet at Scapa Flow, and took part in the Battle of Jutland.
On 12 January, 1918, HMS Opal joined her sister ship HMS Narborough and the light cruiser Boadicea in a night patrol to hunt German warships.
In near zero visibility, Boadicea ordered the Opal and Narborough back to Scapa. However, a garbled message was later received, followed by silence. The ships were found two days later with only one survivor, and later broke up.
Source: The Scotsman