Time to ship out readers' responses

TODAY is a “clear the decks” column, melding readers' reactions to some recent features with snippets that cannot be expanded into a full-length article.

TODAY is a “clear the decks” column, melding readers' reactions to some recent features with snippets that cannot be expanded into a full-length article. First, recently I published a snapshot by Stan Cox, of Westerley Way, Caister, purporting to show the wrecked Moon Beam on the shore there, although I could find record of a vessel of that name ever being in trouble.

Immediately local maritime enthusiast Peter Allard, of Mallard Way, Bradwell, saw the photograph, he realised that I had misinterpreted the photograph: the undamaged Moon Beam was simply drawn up on the sands in the foreground, partially hiding the real casualty - the 77-year-old brigantine Luna, driven ashore in1980 in a gale and eventually disintegrating as the seas pounded her.

I did publish a picture of the Luna, commenting that she was the only craft I could recall winding up in smithereens on Caister beach. The Summerskill family of four that owned her escaped unharmed from their floating home in which they had planned to sail the world.

Reader Harold Harris, of St Antony's Avenue, Gorleston, sent me photographs he took of the stricken Luna although “I cannot recall taking them from Caister beach - I think she went aground on Great Yarmouth North Beach.”

Also, Mr Harris enclosed pictures of the Wegro, the small coaster that grounded on the South Beach near the Harbour's Mouth on a dreadful 1981 night I remember well, mainly because the wind was so fierce that it caused a disorientating sandstorm that blasted the paintwork of a police car at the scene to the extent that the vehicle needed a respray.

Two schoolboy passengers, relatives of the master and chief engineer, were hauled from the Wegro by breeches buoy.

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With that recent column, I published a photograph of a flotilla of minesweepers in Yarmouth harbour about 1955, and said reader Mike King - an ex-Gorlestonian now resident in Lowestoft - wondered what they were doing there. The answer came from Caister resident Tony Overill: “There was a big NATO exercise in the southern North Sea involving ships of the British, Dutch and Danish navies and they used the ports of Yarmouth and Lowestoft as their bases.

“I remember it well because the Danish navy used ex-German E-boats, one of which ran aground on Scoby Sands, and a trough was dug there in the attempts to get her off. I was still at school but my parents had just bought me a 35mm camera and I took some photographs - they would have been costly to develop and print but I had a part-time job at Barkers, the photographic people!”

That luckless stranded Dane was the motor torpedo boat Havoernen, a former German E-boat, and the year was in fact 1952. She was there for nearly seven weeks before being hauled free by the Royal Navy salvage ship Barglow and towed to Lowestoft, establishing a record that still exists, I believe, of being aground on Scroby for the longest time before being safely extricated.

The local maritime fraternity doubted that a refloating bid would ever succeed, and forecast that she would join the Scroby ships' graveyard. It gives some indication of the difficulty of the salvage operation that the Barglow lost three heavy anchors as she strove to free the MTB.

It was during the multi-national exercise that the 97-ton Havoernen ploughed into the treacherous sandbank with only a soft bump because her helmsman had spotted the hazard in time for her engines to be shut down. The Yarmouth and Gorleston and Caister lifeboats went to the rescue in foul weather, and evacuated nine sailors, four others being winched up into a RAF helicoper.

Two officers and ten crew stayed on board. Her commanding officer, 30-year-old Helge Neilsen, never left the Havoernen during the whole of her predicament, always accompanied by three of his men, regularly relieved by shipmates on rota.

Her seven-week ordeal included Christmas, and benefactors on shore ensured that the luckless Danes had plenty to eat and drink and also sent them presents. Caister lifeboat mechanic John Woodhouse made regular ferry trips with supplies in his motorboat Sunshine II.

Had the Havoernen not been refloated in mid-January, two weeks later she would have been at the mercy of the wild weather that caused a huge surge to sweep down the North Sea, causing the 1953 floods in which hundreds died along the east coast.

When I mentioned here some of the news reported in the Mercury in 1933 - three-quarters of a century ago - I included the rescue of a boy from the icy River Yare at Trinity Quay by Edward Perfrement, of Rodney Road, who endured a long stay in a sanitorium because of his immersion in the bitter water.

One of his daughters, 77-year-old Thelma Larkinson, of Retford, has written to tell me that the framed Carnegie Hero Trust Fund certificate he was awarded is still proudly displayed on the living room wall at the home of her younger sister, Margaret, who also resides in the Nottinghamshire town whence they moved during the war.

“In 1996 I wrote to Dunfermline (Scotland) for details and received an invitation to see his name on the illuminated Roll of Honour of Heroes and Heroines. We went that May to see it,” she says.

“I went to Yarmouth library with Miss Cynthia Edwards, of Caister (a lifelong friend) and looked through the old files of the Mercury, and were able to make copies of all that happened, which I still have.”

Finally on this waterborne theme, old friend Mrs Cecilia Ebbage, of Lovewell Road, Gorleston, remembers as a child seven decades ago seeing a decrepit-looking barque on the shore near the breakwater. Railings kept onlookers from getting too close, and she discovered that a silent was being shot.

The film was The Manxman, starring handsome Carl Brisson, but she does not know whether or not he was in Gorleston for these scenes. Some old fishermen's cottages in Busseys Loke, where bungalows now stand, were used in the filming.

The internet contains dozens of references to this film, available on DVD and videotape. It was the last silent picture renowned director Alfred Hitchcock made before adopting sound. But reviews report that the “stunning Isle of Man scenery” was, in fact, Cornwall. One site includes 1000 stills, among them sailing vessels, but nothing looked familiar to me.

By coincidence, in 1926 (the year before Mrs Ebbage arrived here from London) Yarmouth was the location for The Rolling Road - bizarrely, a tropical island setting - and the sailing barque Shakespeare (renamed Gleam) was featured, working from our harbour. In an off-screen drama leading man Carlyle Blackwell rescued heroine Flora Le Breton when she fainted in the icy North Sea off the beach.

Strange, but I had heard yonks ago that Hitchcock directed a film with a sea theme here but, being unaware till now of The Manxman, assumed it was The Rolling Road although detailed scrutiny of the production team always drew a blank.