The Liverpool Nautical Research Society, Maritime Archives and Library, Merseyside Maritime Museum, Albert Dock, Liverpool, L3 4AA UK

LIVERPOOL NAUTICAL RESEARCH SOCIETY

The Liverpool Nautical Research Society Maritime Archives and Library Merseyside Maritime Museum Albert Dock Liverpool L3 4AA UK

LIVERPOOL NAUTICAL RESEARCH SOCIETY

Trawler Tragedy

by W.G.Williamson

Deep sea fishing has always been a particularly dangerous occupation and many trawlers have been lost at sea over the years. In many cases it was severe weather conditions which were the main cause of such losses. Added to the normal perils of the sea, fishing during the years of the Second World War had the added danger of the risk of being intercepted by enemy naval forces. In the years after the Second World War the hazards had only slightly decreased for the risk from mines was still a problem.

It was a request for information about a trawler that sank off the coast of Iceland in the 1940s, possibly in March 1947, that led to research into the story of the Loch Hope. The correspondent was trying to trace a Radio Officer Conrad Burnett of South Shields who may have sent an SOS about that time.

Investigations into trawler losses in 1947 revealed two incidents that seemed to fit the limited information given in the original request. The first was the Fleetwood steam trawler Dhoon (FD54) that was wrecked off Iceland with the loss of three men.

The second loss seemed more promising. It was another Fleetwood trawler called the Princess Marie-José (FD12). She went down on the 11th June 1947 when they trawled up a mine in their nets which then exploded. One man died and seventeen survivors (including eight injured) were picked up by the trawler Urka (FD289) and landed at Seydisfjord. Further research revealed that at the time of her sinking the trawler was actually named the Loch Hope (H220) and not the Princess Marie-José.

Most of the information about this event comes from various newspaper reports from June 1947. Brief details of the event were released to newspapers via Reuters after Wick Radio had received a Lloyds message from the British trawler Goth (H211). They had reported the loss of the Loch Hope and that one man was missing. Further research revealed the name of the man who was killed as Arthur Cattle. His name appears on the Hull and East Riding war memorial website.

The skipper and thirteen of the crew of the Loch Hope travelled home from Iceland by various means after their rescue. The skipper, Mr. A Butler, got a passage home in the trawler Jupiter while the crew came back to the UK by regular mail steamer. Three other men, W. Neve the 3rd Hand, W. Fall and E. Jenkinson (both deckhands) remained in hospital in Iceland. They eventually arrived home on the 27th June 1947 after flying from Reykjavik to Prestwick then by train from Glasgow to Hull.

Neve gave an interview to the Hull Daily Mail which gives the best description of the incident. He was still suffering from back injuries when he recorded his experiences. “None of us actually saw the mine. We were fishing shortly before nine o’clock at night and the trawl was being hauled when a terrific explosion occurred. The next I remember was was being picked up by the cook and taken aft. Some of us were leaning over the ship’s side when the explosion occurred. I was told afterwards that the ship’s side was buckled and the deck for’ard was forced up. Luckily the Fleetwood trawler Urka was about 400 yards away. She came alongside and we were able to jump on board with assistance. The Loch Hope sank within nine minutes of the explosion. 

We were well treated by the crew of the Urka and we have a lot to thank them for. They landed us at Seydisfjord seven hours later and we were admitted to hospital. We were given penicillin for eight days and nurses and staff were most attentive to us while we were there.

A member of the crew whom Neve singled out for special praise is Tommy Beech the cook. “He was very cool and did wonderful work and everyone is full of praise for him.” he said.

Neve was luckier than he could have imagined, for if it had not been for unusual coincidences, the Urka would not have been in the area at the time of the explosion as the following story relates.

Skipper Harry Brunton (36) from Fleetwood was in command of the steam trawler Urka when it left port at the end of May 1947 bound for the Icelandic fishing grounds. However the ship’s cook took ill so Brunton put into a Scottish port and got a replacement cook sent up from Fleetwood. The Urka then sailed with the replacement cook and all went well until he got badly scalded necessitating a return to port for medical attention. This second cook was landed ashore and a third cook was put on board and finally they were off to Icelandic fishing grounds. When they were about 70 miles south of Iceland and within sight of the Loch Hope she had the mine explode and began to sink. Skipper Brunton rescued all the crew of the stricken trawler and landed them in Seydisfjord as previously noted.

The Urka continued fishing but then received a message transmitted via Wick Radio saying Brunton’s mother had died so the trawler immediately diverted to Stornoway. On arrival there, the Brunton family had chartered a plane to bring skipper Brunton to Fleetwood to attend the funeral which had been delayed until his arrival. It is also worth noting that Brunton’s brother Frank, also a skipper, had been lost at sea when his trawler was rammed by a naval vessel o the east coast of Scotland in 1940.

A related story about the Loch Hope appeared in the Aberdeen Journal a couple of days later. The Loch Hope sailed from Aberdeen for several years before the war and at that time figured in a “ghost ship” incident.

The story was recalled to a reporter in the Press and Journal last night by the former owner Mr. John C. Robertson, 37 Abegeldie Road, Aberdeen. Mr Robertson bought her at Fleetwood as the Princess Marie-José and rechristened her Feughside and sailed in her as skipper.

Some men who were familiar with the Feughside declared that they had seen her one night in the gloaming o the coast of Argyllshire about the Sound of Islay. “Actually at that time I was on board her fishing in the North Sea.” said Mr. Robertson, “There was talk at the time about the west coast incident being a mirage or something of that kind.

Mr Robertson sold the Feughside at the beginning of the war to the Loch Fishing Company of Hull. Subsequently she went into battle dress under the Admiralty, from whose service she was released last year. Then she came into the service of Messrs A. & M. Smith of Aberdeen and Hull. Since last November under her third name she fished from Hull under management of the Loch Fishing Co.

Wick Radio which received the Lloyds message about the Loch Hope was probably the most remote of all the UK Coast Radio Stations. It was in a prime location to give radio coverage not only for the home water fishing grounds but also for the distant and middle water fleets. These fleets sailed from Hull, Grimsby, Fleetwood and Aberdeen and needed to keep in communication with their owners back home. Wick radio used the marine WT (Morse) High Frequency band to communicate with ships.

The traditional fishing grounds for these fleets were the Norwegian coast, Bear Island, Spitzbergen, Iceland, the Faroes, Greenland and Newfoundland. Wick was also equipped with radiotelophony (RT or speech) and special remote controlled equipment facilitated communication with trawlers in these areas.

It is also worth noting that the trawler Goth mentioned in this story was herself lost the following year. She disappeared in a fierce storm off the North Cape of Iceland in December, 1948 and all 21 men on board were lost. Fifty years later the Icelandic trawler Helga trawled up the funnel of the lost ship.