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Duncansby Head commemoration 60 years after trawler tragedy


By Gordon Calder


The George Robb pictured the morning after the storm that destroyed her and led to the crew of 12 being lost. Picture: J McDonald Photographers / the late Ian McDonald
The George Robb pictured the morning after the storm that destroyed her and led to the crew of 12 being lost. Picture: J McDonald Photographers / the late Ian McDonald

A TRAWLER tragedy that occurred off the Caithness coast 60 years ago is to be commemorated at a special service next week.

Thirteen men lost their lives when the George Robb, from Aberdeen, foundered on rocks near the Stacks of Duncansby on December 6, 1959. Twelve of the crew died, as well as a coastguard officer from Wick who was involved in the rescue attempt.

Andrew Mowat, treasurer of the John O'Groats Development Trust, which has organised the commemorative event, said relatives of the victims will be in attendance along with representatives from the coastguard service and the Merchant Navy Association.

The service will be conducted by retired local minister the Rev Lyall Rennie at Duncansby Head on Friday, starting at 2pm. There will be a roll call of the men who lost their lives and sea-related hymns will be sung.

If the weather is poor the service will take place in Duncansby lighthouse. Afterwards, the party will go to the Seaview Hotel for tea and sandwiches.

A section of the George Robb's ship's wheel, which is usually housed in Wick Heritage Museum, will be on display at the Seaview as part of the event.

Part of the ship's wheel, which is normally at Wick Heritage Museum, will be on display at the Seaview Hotel. Picture: Alan Hendry
Part of the ship's wheel, which is normally at Wick Heritage Museum, will be on display at the Seaview Hotel. Picture: Alan Hendry

Mr Mowat said a permanent memorial is planned at John O'Groats to commemorate the George Robb tragedy as well as the loss of other boats, including the Cyprus-registered cargo ship Cemfjord which sank in the Pentland Firth in January 2015. Donations to help fund the project can be made at next week's service.

The George Robb was pounded by huge seas and 100mph winds. Despite valiant attempts to rescue the crew they perished.

One crew member managed to reach a cliff face at Duncansby Head but succumbed to the elements. The others drowned on board the trawler.

The 12 fishermen who died were Marshall Ryles, 31; Peter Dempster, 24; Bruno Saborowski, 39; William McKay, 35; Robert Dugan, 38; James Findlay, 30; David Lockhart, 30; John Adams, 45; George Duffy, 25; Albert Smith, 45; William Farquhar and William Duthie, both 47. Wick coastguard officer Eric Campbell was aged 50 and died of a heart attack while attending to the distress call.



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