The Great Storm of 1953

Story By Ken Dadge courtesy of Jackie Wylie

I had just turned sixteen, and it was my second trip to sea. I was a brassie on the steam trawler Darnett Ness H340., of the Marr Steam Fishing Co. In those days Fleetwood was like a Wild West Town, with the place full of great characters from all over the country, who came to Fleetwood for a life on the trawlers, probably one of the most dangerous jobs you could have.

Anyway, back into my 2nd. Trip to sea. We left dock at the end of January and my mother was waiting at the North End to wave me off, with her was Mrs. Palin, whose husband was a deckhand on our ship, and her son young George, who was a brassie, like me , was aboard the fateful Michael Griffith.

The Michael Griffith left dock ahead of us , and my mother told me later that Mrs. Palin’s son was on the forecastle head looking out to sea , and he never looked back once to se his mother, unfortunately, this was the last time she saw him, poor soul.

We were in the Minch off the Isle of Lewis when the storm hit us, and the Michael Griffith was off the Butt of Lewis. When the storm hit her she went down with all hands, God Bless Them. It was in the afternoon, and the weather was so severe that the deck had to be cleared.

I was in my bunk on the Port side one minute, and I was on my back on the Shipside the next. A great sea had hit us, and sent us heeling right over to port, nearly capsizing us, it happened so fast we could not get to our senses at first.

Then the fo’castle door burst open , flooding it with sea water. Then it was all hands to the coal bunkers to shovel the coal back, as it had all shifted over to the Port side, giving us a 30degree list.

As I looked out of the half doors I could see the lifeboat being swept away upside down, it had been washed overboard when the sea hit us. The sea also bent most of the rails, and smashed the bridge windows.

I then looked down into the engine room, where I could see the Chief Engineer ( Jock Muir ) , covered in oil, as a big drum of oil tipped all over him, I remember the Chief’s party trick was to swallow a live mouse and bring it back up again.

Anyway, we managed to stagger into Stornoway with a serious list to port, and Mr. Palin was flown home to comfort his wife on the loss of their son on the Michael Griffith. We were made seaworthy again , and continued with our trip. After we docked in Fleetwood, our Skipper “Sobs” Birch, never went to sea again. The storm tore down the North Sea claiming many lives on the English and Dutch coasts. I still have a letter that I posted to my mother from Stornoway, telling her about the Great Storm.