What happened to Seaman Edgar Soper?

Reprinted from The Packet, September 13, 2018
by Lester Green

Seaman Edgar Soper spent his entire naval career aboard the HMS Devonshire. He made several trips across the Atlantic accompanying convoys that were transporting goods between England and Halifax during the last six months of 1918. On his final voyage across the Atlantic, the ship continued onward to the Bermuda Naval Station where he spent his final four months of his naval career. What happened to Seaman Soper after the war is still an unsolved mystery for his family.

Seaman Edgar Soper. (Photo courtesy of Wilson Soper)

Church records list Edgar Soper birth as November 7, 1897 and his birthplace as being House Cove. His parents are listed as Owen and Louisa Soper. However, his Naval engagement papers list his birth as date as December 15, 1896 at North West Brook. His family first lived at House Cove before moving to North West Brook.

Seaman Edgar Soper’s Royal Naval Application. Source TRPAD_GN 182.14

He travelled to St. John’s with his friend Joseph Bursey who would eventually become his brother-in-law. They both enlisted with the Newfoundland Royal Naval Reserve, HMS Briton and signed their application on January 9, 1918.

Seaman Soper trained for about six weeks and was deployed overseas in February 1918. After his arrival, he was drafted to the HMS Vivid III, a shore-based facility located at Devonport, England. The base was used for the Royal Naval Division Trawler Section. Here he completed about four months of training and was assigned to the HMS Devonshire, an Armed Merchant Cruiser. The cruiser was part of a flotilla of ships that composed the Grand Fleets of North America and West Indies Station to accompany convoys across the dangerous waters of the Atlantic.                                                                                                                                                                  

Seaman Edgar Soper’s Ships Ledger, RNR. Source TRPAD_ GN 182.6

Naval records provide evidence that he joined the crew on June 7, 1918 at Glasgow, England. The ship made four round trips across the Atlantic from England to Canada accompanying convoys. Most of the trips were routine but the crew maintained rigorous training exercises to be prepared. They were always on the alert for German submarines and underwater mines set out by the enemy.

On September 9, the crew of HMS Devonshire were vividly reminded of these dangers. Shortly after leaving Liverpool, the ship received a message notifying them that SS Missanabie was struck by a torpedoed and sunk off Ireland with the loss of 45 lives.

For the safety of all ships while crossing the Atlantic, it was naval protocol to have ships travel in convoys. Records indicate that during their assignment on the HMS Devonshire some convoys reached as high as 25 ships.

HMS Devonshire

On December 3, 1918 the HMS Devonshire departed Halifax, destined for Boston. After spending a week at port, the ship set sail for Bermuda and arrived there on December 18. Records indicate that Edgar spent about four months at the Bermuda station before being sent home.

His final days with the Royal Naval Reserve are somewhat controversial. Naval records indicate that he arrived at the HMS Briton, St. John’s on April 19, 1919 where he remained until being demobilized on July 2.

However, several family members insist that he never arrived in St. John’s but was on a ship that was torpedo by a German submarine and lost his life. They claim that the submarine was unaware that the war had ended. His naval papers do not record any evidence of his death.

Other members say he returned but soon left for work on the high seas. They claim he travelled overseas with his brother, John onboard a large schooner from Twillingate. They were returning when the ship likely foundered in heavy seas. Both brothers were lost at sea.

As we commemorate the end of the World War 1, family members are no closer to solving the mystery of their missing uncle. 

Seaman Edgar Soper’s brother, Reuben Soper. (Photo courtesy of Wilson Soper)

His brother Reuben died not knowing for sure what happened to his brothers.