65619: Rescue of the Gothia crew

In January 1942 ‘Gothia’ a Swedish steamer was torpedoed off Rockall and sank almost immediately. She had a crew of 23 and 2 lifeboats. Three crew members were killed on impact – nine presumed lost as they were in one of the lifeboats of which there was no further trace. The remaining eleven sailed near to the east of Lewis when they were spotted by men in Bernera.
Angus ‘Tuaram’ Macdonald 8 Croir was home on leave and joining in the preparations for the wedding of a Croir lassie called Effie Mackenzie.

Having seen the course that the boat was taking he flashed a Morse code message to them, telling them to change course for the Lighthouse on Laimishader. Tuaram and two other men rowed out to where they had seen the lifeboat but after a search of two hours amongst the skerries and small islands they found nothing and returned home.

Tuaram however could not leave it at that and decided to make a second attempt. He took Roddy Ferguson 5 Croir and John Murdo Mackenzie 3 Croir with him and they made for Laimishader. Before they reached there, they spotted the boat in a cove, in danger of breaking up against the rocks. One crewman was ashore, evidently having tried to fend off the boat but a heavy swell had carried it further up the cove. Most of the crew were lying in the bottom of the boat, quite exhausted. With the sea and tide running as they were, it would have been only a matter of hours before the boat was broken up.
Two other members of the crew had gone up to the light to seek assistance, so John Murdo went to find them while Tuaram and Roddy tried to get the lifeboat off the rocks. Roddy took the small boat to a spot where it would be possible to get the men embarked, while Tuaram put up the sail of the lifeboat. They set off for Croir towing the small boat behind them.
When they reached Croir, they roused the village. Fires were stoked and blankets supplied for the survivors. They had to be lifted from the lifeboat into the small boat to be ferried ashore. The Captain was seriously injured so a stretcher was improvised using the sail and he was thus brought ashore. They were all taken into Effie’s house amid the wedding preparations. Everyone was willing to help, Effie among the busiest – she got no sleep that night. The uninjured were billeted around the village, hot food, dry clothing and bedding provided. Apparently Tuaram even shaved the two men he took in!
The nurse arrived and dressed the wounds and later Dr Maclennan came to offer his services. In the afternoon Provost Mackenzie, the Swedish Vice-Consul and Mr Murdo Maclean of the Shipwrecked Mariners Society arrived to organise the transport of the crew to Stornoway.
The wedding preparations and the care of the wounded carried on simultaneously, but the wedding was postponed for an hour so the man would not be disturbed by the celebrations. The two small cars and a bus ferried the guests to the wedding and the survivors to the ferry at the south end of Bernera.
Tuaram was given charge of the steamers documents which he handed to the Vice-Consul. He then went to the wedding feast. He had only arrived home on leave the night before, having travelled for two days ending with a four mile walk home. He got two hours sleep that night, and that was all for the next four days.
Folke Pehris, spokesman for the crew, told his story to the Gazette and repeatedly expressed their gratitude for the rescue and the hospitality and kindness shown to them in Bernera.
Legend has it that the lifeboat was gifted to the village as a thank you gesture from Sweden, but no-one now is sure what happened to it.

Record Type:
Story, Report or Tradition
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