Search our records : Norman James Aplin

Surname: Aplin
Forename(s): Norman James
Service Number: Leading Seaman
Date of Birth: 7th August 1884
Force: Royal Naval Reserve
Parents: James Boalch (stepfather) and Susan Aplin (mother)

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Norman Aplin was born in Beer in August 1884.  His stepfather, James Boalch, was a fisherman, while his mother, Susan, was a lacemaker[1].  Norman had an elder brother, William, and all four members of the family were born in Beer.

Norman (who in later years was nicknamed ‘John Bull’) joined the Royal Naval Reserve on his 20th birthday in August 1904.  He was one of the Beer RNR men who marched off on 3rd August 1914, the day before Britain declared war on Germany, in response to a proclamation from the Admiralty calling up the RNR and the Royal Fleet Reserve.  He features in several of the surviving photographs of that day.  In the photograph below, he is the man on the left, with arms outstretched.  Little more than a month after being called up, he was shipwrecked!

Norman joined HMS Oceanic, a White Star liner pressed into naval service and fitted with 4.7-inch guns.  Only two weeks later Oceanic, in calm weather and good visibility, ran aground near the Shetlands and was completely wrecked, although all the crew of 600 were saved.  The last man off the ship was Charles Lightoller, who had survived the sinking of the Titanic only two years before.  

Norman then joined HMS Revenge, a Royal Sovereign class battleship, in October 1914 and remained until August 1915.  In October 1915 Norman began a spell of six months at HMS Vivid, the shore establishment at Plymouth, before joining HMS City of London, an armed merchant cruiser, on which he was to spend the rest of the war.  City of London served in the Indian Ocean, and later escorted Atlantic convoys.

Norman is in the front row of the photograph below, on the right.  All the men pictured are wearing the cap band of HMS City of London.

Originally the SS City of London, a passenger liner owned by the Ellerman City Line, HMS City of London was one of many merchant ships commandeered by the Royal Navy during the First World War.

Norman was demobilised from war service on 19th February 1919 in Belfast, and eventually left the RNR on 6th August 1924, after 21 years.  His conduct during his war service was described as ‘Very good’, and his ability was assessed as ‘Superior’.

Norman died in 1951, aged 65.

[1] 1891 census, via