Separated by the sea – until maritime charity steps in
A pair of former seafaring brothers who had lost touch have been reconnected, thanks to international maritime charity Sailors’ Society.
Robert Griffin, was worried about his brother Norman, who lives in New Zealand, after being unable to reach him for more than two years, and is delighted after finally speaking to him last week.
“We were thrilled and so was he; he’s not a very well man sadly, but he was cheerful enough talking to me.”
Robert, 81, who spent nine years in the Royal Navy, last spoke to his brother in 2014.
He had all but given up hope of speaking to his brother again until Sailors’ Society came to the rescue in response to a call for help from Robert’s son Steve.
Robert said: “We spoke about the family and it was brilliant to talk to him after all this time, we’re just surprised that he’s still alive.
“He wished my wife and I a happy 60th anniversary. We spoke for more than 20 minutes and weren’t worried about the time as we were just pleased to catch up. He told me that one of his friends had recently passed away and our call cheered him up a bit.”
Norman, who is 83 this month, was in the Merchant Navy and moved to New Zealand in the 1950s, had been living at the Sailors' Home in Auckland until a fire destroyed the building in 2007 and the home moved.
Since then, the brothers have struggled to maintain contact.
Robert explained: “Before the fire, I knew he would be in the lounge in the morning, so I could ring him there and have a catch up. Since the fire, it has been a lot harder to get through to him.”
Steve, 52, was spurred on to track his uncle down by his parents’ 60th wedding anniversary.
Knowing that his uncle was in the Merchant Navy, Steve searched online for organisations that help seafarers and found Sailors’ Society. He sent them a Facebook message and within 24 hours, the charity, which has a sister society in New Zealand, had tracked Norman down.
Robert said: “When Steve said he had been searching for Norman, it was amazing to hear he had tracked him down. My brother Edward had been trying too with no luck, so we’re delighted to have got back in contact.”
Tracking down Norman via social media isn’t the most unusual way the brothers have got in contact. Robert spent 18 months with the Navy in the Mediterranean between 1953-55. At the same time, Norman was travelling from the UK to New Zealand on a merchant vessel.
Robert explained: “I was on HMS Meon and we docked at the Grand Harbour in Malta. There was a light flash across the way and a signal officer came to tell me that someone wanted to speak to me personally. I went up to the bridge and flashed the light back, it was my brother Norman half a mile away on a merchant ship.
“We had a good chat on the signal lamp, we almost got reprimanded for sending personal messages but my skipper took it well.”
One of the few photos of the brothers together.
Three of the Griffin brothers, Edward, Norman and Robert in their school uniforms.