Memories of the Herring Industry

READERS' memories have been stirred again by my columns on items as varied as ships aground, a postal service linked with the herring fishery, and gas works staff.

READERS' memories have been stirred again by my columns on items as varied as ships aground, a postal service linked with the herring fishery, and gas works staff. First, we have more information on two maritime emergencies - the coaster Wegro running ashore on Great Yarmouth's South Beach in 1981, and the Danish motor torpedo boat Havoernen being stranded on Scroby Sands for seven weeks over Christmas 1952.

Paul Harris, of Seymour Avenue, Yarmouth, was Coastguard duty watch officer on the South Pier in Gorleston when he learned that the Wegro was in imminent danger of running ashore in treacherous conditions exacerbated by a storm-force 60mph gale, so he fired maroons to alert the lifeboat and the coast rescue company.

The Yarmouth and Gorleston lifeboat and helicopter from RAF Coltishall set off, as did Mr Harris. A member of the coast rescue company, he joined his Gorleston colleagues - supplemented by the Winterton brigade, led by the late Tony Bush - on the shore where the Wegro had beached.

“Conditions were so bad that the lifeboat and helicopter could not perform a rescue attempt as the vessel was in the breakers, so it was decided to use the breeches buoy to assist in rescuing the crew,” recalls Mr Harris.

A telegraph pole was used as an anchorage for the equipment. After three attempts, a line was secured on the Wegro, the rocket passing through the wheelhouse window. “The crew, including youngsters, were brought safely ashore and a watch was kept on the vessel in case of further problems.”

He adds: “We trained with the breeches buoy equipment every summer at the Hopton Holiday Village where youngsters would queue up to be hoisted from the beach to the top of the cliffs in this strange way. I do not think that this apparatus is available now for rescues, but it certainly did the business on that awful night in 1981.”

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Now for the Havoernen. David Morrice tells me the vessel that hauled her off Scroby - the Barglow - was not strictly a Royal Navy salvage ship as I stated but belonged to a small fleet run separately by the Admiralty with the prime task of clearing all the sunken “block ships” scuttled during the war to protect harbour entrances.

“Barglow was an Admiralty salvage vessel crewed by civilians, most of whom were ex-Navy, no doubt,” continues Mr Morrice. Her captain had been a lieutenant commander in minesweepers during the war as was the first officer, Lieutenant “Jumper” Collins. Also on board was a Yarmouth man, Wilson McLeman, then of Queens Road.

When towed clear of Scroby by the Barglow, she was taken into Yarmouth harbour before going to Lowestoft for repairs, says Mr Morrice, who believes the MTB would have floated clear of the sandbank in the high seas of the 1953 floods, thus contradicting my assertion that she would have been at the mercy of the surge.

Mind you, he is in a good position to judge, for the Barglow's captain was his father, Capt David Morrice. At the time the family lived on Exmouth Road. “In my school holidays I used to go away with my father for the six weeks on board ship and I then 'helped' personally in detonating the charges to blow up block ships at Dover, Liverpool, South Shields and the Humber,” he said.

“We also removed 550 live mines out of HMS Port Napier off the island of Skye - she was a fast mine-layer that caught fire and sank after several mines blew up during the war while she was on her maiden voyage,” reports Mr Morrice who is proud to have Barglow's ship's bell at his home in West Caister.

His father, a Merchant Navy man before switching to a 38-year Royal Navy career from 1939-77, was the first of three seafaring generations of David Morrices, and was awarded the MBE for his work in clearing the Suez Canal; my correspondent, now 64, spent 23 years in the Senior Service; and his Merchant Navy son is now a harbour pilot working in Gibraltar.

The family also lived in Belton at one time.

I have been tardy in passing on information from two readers about a feature earlier this year on the Yarmouth Fishwharf post office and the pneumatic tube linking it with the head post office in Regent Street through which thousands of telegrams and cables were swiftly conveyed during the long-gone autumn herring fishery.

It was an invaluable service because merchants, buyers and others engaged in the industry conducted much of their business by telegram and cable and needed this urgent means of communication.

Leonard Wortley, aged 78, of Perebrown Avenue, Yarmouth, was delighted to recognise his father, Albert, in one of the pre-war photographs illustrating that column; he was pictured walking from a Royal Mail van parked beside a high stack of those unique swill baskets used to transport and measure the herring catches.

Albert Wortley and sons Leonard and Norman were all Post Office employees, their combined service totalling more than a century. “I joined as a messenger boy at 14 in 1944 and was a postman/driver for 50 years. My father did 46 years. Norman was in the Post Office for only ten years,” he reports.

“My dad's work at one time included driving down New Road at Fritton, going through the forestry to the riverside, walking across a plank through the reeds to a letter box with a wooden arm.

“He'd raise the arm to indicate that there was a letter waiting inside, and the old marshman farmer would see the arm raised and knew it meant he'd got a letter, so he would row across to pick it up and replace the arm ready for the next time.”

Apparently, the Post Office did not deem it worthwhile to send a van on the journey over the marshes and round to the other side of the river. When Mr Wortley senior retired, Leonard took over this particular delivery for a time.

In another photograph accompanying that “whoosh tube” article, Mr Albert Frosdick, of Church Lane, Gorleston, recognised his uncle, Ernie Wright, a carter driver, in a group of Fishwharf workers receiving a telegram from a senior postman.

Finally, when writing about gas lamps, I published a photograph of two men chatting near the old Gorleston gasworks in Southtown Road. One was identified by Dave Boon, now of Bedfordshire, as his grandfather, Herbert Garrett (1890-1960).

Bert Garrett, a long-serving foreman who had retired when the picture was taken, was succeeded by Edward Harris, according to Russell Smith, of Nile Road, Gorleston, a fitters' mate there until demolition was complete. Mr Smith says the other man in the photograph was James Woodcock, manager of the gasworks.