Setting foot on grandfather’s boat was emotional for me, but a wonderful experience
By PAUL RIDDELL
WHEN Donald Walker discovered that the Fifie Pilot Us had been acquired and restored for exhibit by Shetland Museum, he longed to make the trip north with his son Felix to see the boat.
Donald’s paternal grandfather Felix had served on the vessel when she was based in Scapa Flow during the Second World War before he was lost in 1943 aboard HMT Daneman on an Atlantic convoy, ostensibly another statistic from a time of massive loss and tragedy.
But Donald refused to accept that the only testament to the heroism of his forebear should be a minor records entry marked “Missing – death on war service presumed”.
His grandmother, Felix’s wife Margaret, died suddenly in 2004, just under a week before his son was born, and realising that one day he would like to be able to explain to young Felix this heartaching episode in the family’s history, Donald and his sister Gillian set about researching the story.
Their discoveries, which Donald later wrote up as the pamphlet Finding Felix, included the whereabouts of the Pilot Us, a 95-ton steel drifter built in 1931 and bought in 1948 by the Watt family in Scalloway. Joseph “Dodo” Watt fished in her for 52 years along with his late brother Magnus.
Donald recently made the poignant trip to Shetland from his home in Edinburgh with Felix, his partner Jennifer and their other son Lennox, to see the Pilot Us at Hay’s Dock in front of the new Museum and Archives.
Donald, sports editor of The Scotsman, said: “Setting eyes on the Pilot Us, and then setting foot aboard, was an emotional experience because of the direct connection with a grandfather I wish I had known.
“Felix was in the Royal Naval Patrol Service during the Second World War, and lost his life in 1943 when his ship went down on an Atlantic convoy in 1943. My granny did not re-marry and she lived alone in Fife for the next 60 years, with the loss of her husband remaining too painful an experience for her to dwell on.
“She died suddenly in 2004, just six days before my first child was born. It was a heartbreaking time of conflicting emotions. I had not dared to tell her that if her grandchild was to be a boy, he would be called Felix. Perhaps I should not have felt regret, but I did and I always will.
“After my granny’s death I spent two years searching for scraps of information about my grandfather, with the help of my sister. I wanted to be able to answer the questions that will inevitably come when my son Felix grows older. When we discovered that one of the ships my grandfather had served on was the Pilot Us, I was intrigued; when we found that the boat was still in one piece and is now owned by the Shetland Museum,
I was amazed and delighted.
“The location made sense, because one of the few stories my granny had told me was that Lerwick was one of the ports that Felix had sailed out of. I’ve since discovered that the Pilot Us was a duty boat at Scapa Flow, which is where my grandfather must have served before he was put on convoy duty.”
Donald bought several of the wooden replicas of the Pilot Us on sale in the museum shop as mementos for himself and other members of the family. His uncle Jim also recently visited Shetland to see the boat.
Donald added: “I offer my sincere thanks to the museum for offering a home to the Pilot Us. Finding Grandad, and sharing that experience with my three-year-old son, means a lot to me. Maybe one day Felix will make the same journey with his own children.”
• Did you or one of your relatives serve on the Pilot Us during the war? If so, please contact Paul Riddell at email@example.com or phone (01595) 746715.