Bell tolls on steam trawler

TO MARK the 90th anniversary of the Armistice a small ceremony took place at Grytviken, South Georgia, centred on the Viola – the oldest surviving steam trawler in the world with its steam engines still intact and a veteran of Shetland’s maritime war.

Late last year the vessel, now named the Dias, was reunited with its bell for the first time since the early 1920s. The trawler, built in 1906 for the Hellyer North Sea trawling fleet of Hull, lies at the old whaling station of Grytviken.

The Viola was requisitioned by the Admiralty in 1914 and armed; between the autumn 1914 and September 1916 she patrolled the waters around Shetland in the war against U-boats.

One of her patrols routes took her between Muckle Flugga and Shetland and she often worked out of Lerwick and Scalloway.

The bell was located on a farm in southern Norway in 2006 by Robb Robinson of the Maritime Historical Studies Centre of the University of Hull, almost exactly 100 years after the trawler’s first voyage, and many people subsequently contributed to a fund which raised money for its purchase and return to Hull.

The bell has subsequently been loaned to the museum at Grytviken which is run by South Georgia Heritage Trust and is on display there as part of an exhibition about the vessel.

The Viola is one of the very few surviving vessels from the Great War and after leaving Shetland she played a part in the sinking of two U-boats in the North Sea while on patrol from the Tyne.

To mark the 90th anniversary of the Armistice the cruise ship Clipper Adventurer came into Cumberland Bay by the whaling station on Remembrance Sunday and the vice-rector from Christchurch Cathedral, Stanley, in the Falkland Islands, came ashore to conduct a remembrance service in the whaling station’s church.

The ceremony was attended by members of the British Antarctic Survey and construction workers based on the island, as well as some of the passengers from the cruise ship. Afterwards, those involved went down to the old trawler where the museum curator, Elsa Davidson, said a few words. A period of silence was observed and bell was tolled on board by government officer Pat Lurcock.

The ceremony in the distant South Atlantic was a poignant reminder of the role that Britain’s fishermen and fishing vessels played in both 20th century world wars.


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