Times Past

25 Years Ago

On 25th April HRH Princess Anne will pay a one-day visit to members of the Shetland Branch of the Royal Corps of Signals.

She will meet with soldiers and their families at Collafirth Hill, Hillswick and Urafirth.

Princess Anne’s visit will be a part of the tour of the Royal Corps of Signals, of which she is Colonel in Chief.

50 Years Ago

A fantastic ocean drama was enacted before a big audience of Lerwegians on Monday night. In the course of it the Lerwick lifeboat rescued two men from the Fraser­burgh fishing boat Gleaner, a third was rescued from a raft by the seine-netter Fragrant Rose, and the death throes of the well-found craft were witnessed in the finale.

It all started when three men heard that a Norwegian ship was in distress somewhere off Muckle Flugga. Perhaps they formed that impression from stories they had heard about the Norwegian fishing boat whose survivors had been brought to Lerwick on Tuesday night. Whatever they thought it impelled them to take the 46 ton seine-netter from the safety of Lerwick harbour where she lay in company with others sheltering from the gale.

Soon after 9pm The Gleaner left the harbour to answer the mythical distress call, despite the fact that no boat had been out on this day when the wind was almost constantly at 45 mph and gusting to 60. At the wheel was skipper David Corstor­phine, in the engine room was engin­eer George Cook. Solitary deckhand was young Steve Killoh. The other four crew members, including the skipper’s father, were all ashore when the decision was made.

It is understood that the skipper radioed Wick saying that he was answering a distress call. Little time elapsed before a more definite distress call reached Wick – from The Gleaner, which had gone ashore somewhere between Ham and Bressay Lighthouse. The maroons were quickly fired to call Lerwick lifeboat and soon after another cracked out to summons the LSA men.

Immediate events were con­fus­ing, messages from The Gleaner indicated that they had lost the skip­per and engineer Cook had taken the radio. It transpired that the trio had decided to abandon ship and launched a liferaft. The skipper had jumped in, but it had broke away before his companions could follow. It drifted away in darkness and raging seas.

Frantic calls for help now came from The Gleaner, which had refloat­ed and was drifting across the bay. The engine room was flooded and the boat was no longer under control, shouted the engineer. And he urged the several seine-netters which answered him to try and pick up the skipper. In occasion­ally lurid language he described the weather – and an answering boat told him to modify his language!

By this time the Knab, Ness of Sound and Breiwick Bay shores were lined with cars and spectators, out in the bay the lights of The Gleaner shone clearly, she was drift­ing steadily towards to the Ness of Sound as the lifeboat cleared the point of the Knab. Cook fired two rockets to attract the lifeboat’s attention.

Not much behind the lifeboat was the Fragrant Rose, but when she was abeam of the lifeboat she turned to go in again. It transpired that the Spes Vera, following her out, had discovered that its propeller was fouled by a rope. The Fragrant Rose followed the lifeboat once it was established that other rescuers could make the pier again without aid.

About 10.30 The Gleaner struck the shore again, this time in the Ness of Sound area. The lifeboat went right in and the two men jumped simultaneously. It was quick work by Coxswain Sales and he did it with no damage to his boat beyond a few scratches in the paint work.

A few minutes later, however, the Fragrant Rose spotted the raft and picked up the skipper. The lifeboat then took the raft in tow but lost it somewhere in the harbour mouth. The skipper was first to be landed in Lerwick where a tremendous crowd had gathered to watch the arrivals. Immediately he came ashore and he was escorted to the RNMDSF by the superintendent Mr D McHutcheon, and the local representative of the Shipwrecked Mariners Society, Mr John Anderson.

Despite his narrow escape from death the skipper seemed to be quite unconcerned about the incident and would make no comment, in fact he gave his name as “Smith”. When the lifeboat landed the other survivors were also taken to the mission and likewise gave no comment to what had happened.

Waiting anxiously on shore were the other four members of the crew – including the skipper’s father John Corstorphine who is part-owner; J Forbes, W Stephen and J Buchan.

Skipper Corstorphine was on shore little the worse for his hazardous experience, before the final act was over. In Breiwick Bay The Gleaner drove shoreward, still buoyant in the raging sea. Her progress was watched by hundreds. Lights still blazing she appeared to sweep in towards North Taing, then seaward again and finally, broadside on, she struck rocks below the UF Manse.

Heeling over and pounding against the rocks, the ship died. The lights went out. With a crunch – “like a huge foot going through a case of eggs” said one witness – the fore part disintegrated, leaving only the wheel house visible in the light of many electric torches from the shore. Soon after there was nothing but a mass of flotsam below the rocks. A boy ran from the scene with an armful of firewood.

Next morning the rocks were combed for salvage. There was nothing worth taking away – from Braewick Road to the Sea Road the shore was littered with matchwood and occasionally a larger piece. A tank lay on the beach at the Sletts. The sea was still grinding timber against the rocks. Gulls wheeled and dived among the fish that spewed up from the hold.

The three survivors and the crew left for home by Tuesday’s plane. They had lost everything in the wreck. It amazes all who saw the events of Monday night that three lives were not lost as well.

100 Years Ago

The Dandy Darkey Coons – Successful Concert – On Tuesday and Wednesday nights the Lerwick Town Hall was literally packed with spectators, who came in expect­ation of a good and rousing concert by “dem darkey coons”. In previous years coon concerts have been highly successful in town, where there are only too few enter­tain­ments of a popular nature, and on the two nights of the concert this week the attendance showed that they were still as full of attractions as ever. The object of the artistes was to raise money for the prize fund of the local Territorial Force, and they have every reason to be gratified with the support given by the public.

At eight o’clock the platform was taken by the troupe, who from that time to the close were success­ful in keeping the audience attentive and amused. Captain MacDougall acted “Massa Johnson”. The quips and jokes of the corner-men – (Bones, Mr B. Halcrow; Skins, Mr W.J. Greig) – and of Peary and Cook (Messrs H. Kay and A. Sutherland), had mostly a local application, and were all the more enjoyed on that account. The best of them were just a bit too personal to be quoted, and some of the others were rather thin, but they raised hearty laughs. In addition to this time-honoured feature, the troupe possessed considerable musical talent, and several coon songs were rendered to the satisfaction of the auditors. The banjo playing of Hannibal, Jex, and Handle (Messrs Yule, W. Kay and McG, Scott) ought to be mentioned, as it was specially good. Mr H. Kay (“Peary”) danced a breakdown, which drew forth a hearty encore.

Despite the best efforts of the coons the first part lagged a little, but after the interval, when a truly laughable sketch, “The Virginian Mummy,” was introduced, the audience were kept in perpetual fits of laughter. The plot of the piece was the desire of “Captain Rifle” (Mr J.W. Robertson), who had just returned from abroad, to get into communication with “Lucy” (Mr Harold Sandison), despite the wishes of her crusty old guardian “Dr Galen” (Mr A. Campbell). Knowing that the doctor wishes a mummy for an experiment he dresses up “Ginger Blue” (Mr J.B. Halcrow), a darkey servant, as a mummy, and brings him to the doctor. Naturally, with a plot like this, a farcical situation arises, which gives ample scope for humorous acting. In the part of Ginger Blue, Mr Halcrow’s quietly humorous style was almost per­fection, and he captivated the house. Mr A. Campbell as Dr Galen was very successful, and the other parts, including those of “P. O’Leary” (Mr Ramsay), and “Charles” (Mr T.M. Scott), were all well-sustained. The audience laughed loud and long at the various scenes, and at the close broke into thunderous applause. The farce was one of the best ever seen in town, and the acting taken all over was equal to it.


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