Ships That Pass In The Night

The Times was a small smack, typical of the multitude of coasting vessels that plied around the British Isles and across to the near continent in the 19th century. In 1871, her crew consisted of 3 men: the master Robert Milne – a 33 year-old Dundonian, the mate William Taylor aged 46 from Crail, and a 17 year-old ordinary seaman George Smith from Stonehaven. We know this because she was recorded in the census on 2nd April at Woodhaven. She was a frequent visitor to the Tay, on this occasion she had brought a load of manure from London to Perth, arriving on 22nd March. Having discharged the cargo, she left Perth empty on 29th March for Woodhaven. After this the records currently available go quiet but she reappears again towards the end of April having left Sunderland (or South Shields depending on the source used) for Inverness, cargo unknown but possibly coal. On 30th April she puts in to Aberdeen because of bad weather but leaves for Inverness the next day. After another gap in the records, she reappears passing north through the Caledonian Canal on 23rd May with a load of slates from Easdale bound for Dundee. She leaves the Canal on 24th May and arrives in King William Dock, Dundee on the 27th. One further visit to the Tay is recorded that year: on 5 September she arrives with 85 tons of coal from Sunderland for the Tay Bridge Contractors.

One clue to the Times’s cargo is given by another coasting vessel, Racer, tonnage 61, a Cornish vessel, master William H Hodge together with a mate, an AB seaman, an ord. seaman & a cook. She appears in London on 7th March 1871 having come from Nice. On 16th March she too leaves London bound for Perth with a load of manure. She arrives in Perth on April 1st and on 8th also sails empty to Woodhaven. However we know from the Customs House records, reported in the press, that she departed from the Tay on 14th April for London with 100 tons of potatoes and has arrived there by the 1st May.

It is highly unlikely that Times would have sailed from Perth to Woodhaven without having a specific cargo in mind – surely Dundee would be a better source of possible cargoes. So my money is on another load of potatoes. Whether she took them to Sunderland direct or via another port is, from the presently available sources, impossible to say.

Just one thought – manure – from London to Perth – at least 2 ship loads.

Shipping & Mercantile Gazette: 8, 15, 17 March 1871; 2, 25, 26 May 1871;
Dundee Courier: 15 April 1871; 29 May 1871; 5 September 1871;
Perthshire Advertiser: 13 April 1871;
Aberdeen Press and Journal: 3 May 1871;
Shields Daily Gazette: 3 May 1871;
Newspapers can be found on the British Newspaper Archive or Find My Past sites.
Census Scotland, 1871, 431-1-14 and 903/S-17-1, at ScotlandsPeople.

333 Squadron, Royal Norwegian Airforce at Woodhaven

333 Squadron of the Royal Norwegian Airforce was formed when the Norwegian flag was first raised at Woodhaven on February 8th 1942. Ten days later the first Catalina PBY aircraft, designated W8424 and called Vingtor after the old Norse War God, landed in the bay.

Finn Lambrechts, the squadron’s first commander, and his flight engineer, Hans Ronningen, had flown the northern route of the Norwegian Airline DNL before they escaped from the Germans, as many others did by a variety of routes finally leading to Britain. Commander Lambrechts had observed that German defences were weak along the coast of Heligoland so that it would be possible to put agents ashore to watch and report on German coastal shipping. His proposal to form a unit was supported by the Norwegians and finally received the approval of Coastal Command.

Woodhaven was chosen as the base because of its relatively isolated location which served the need for secrecy, and Catalinas – designed for anti submarine warfare and convoy escort duties – were chosen for the work. Norwegians from all over the world provided the ground crews, flight engineers and other staff needed. Initially the unit was a detachment from 210 Squadron RAF Coastal Command designated No 1477 Flight.

The Catalinas flew agents into Norway during 1942 and most of 1943. When these activities became too well known to the Germans they were used for anti submarine work and convoy escort duties to protect the American convoys heading for Murmansk. The Catalinas also patrolled ahead of the convoys to report on ice conditions. Towards the end of the war they again began to take in agents. Coded messages broadcast by the Norwegian service of the BBC were used to tell agents (and the squadron) the day on which they would be picked up or receive supplies. Sometimes the weather interfered and the date, but not the time, of an operation would be changed.

On 23rd December 1942, they flew from Woodhaven to Norway to deliver 52 sacks of Christmas presents from a height of 50 feet.

Only one casualty occurred to the Catalinas during the war when one of the flying boats was crippled by anti-aircraft fire on a raid to Norway, but it managed to get back in safety.

In March 1943 six Mosquitoes under the command of Captain Larsen were sent to Leuchars to carry out offensive action along the Norwegian coast line. On May 10th 1943 the two units were officially established as a squadron. ‘A’ Flight flew Catalinas from Woodhaven and ‘B’ Flight operated Mosquitoes from Leuchars. The squadron motto is ‘Our King our Country and the honour of our Flag’.

Contact between the Norwegians and Woodhaven residents was chiefly through William Rankine who was a firm friend of Norway and came to mean a lot to the young airmen. Other locals also did their best to help and one such was Lady Bluebell Walker who opened her home (later to become the Sandford Hotel) to the Norwegians.

King Haakon visited the unit 3 times and Crown Prince Olav once. In July 1944 King Haakon planted the two laburnum trees which are now tended by the Wormit Boating club.

The Squadron used the ‘Mars Sheds’ at Woodhaven Pier and also took over Rock House as a headquarters. Local properties, including Dunvarlich and Netherlea, were also used.

Immediately after the war the 333 Squadron took an active part in the reconstruction of northern Norway and the island settlements. Careful planning was needed to cope with the huge demand for help to restore communications.
In due course the Catalina aircraft was pensioned off to be replaced first by the Albatross and later by the Orion – a 4-engined aircraft with a cruising range of 16 to 18 hours. B Flight was later formed into 334 Squadron and now operates the Starfighter.
333 Squadron’s primary task remains the surveillance of surface underwater and air traffic including rescue operations along the Norwegian coast and in the neighbouring ocean areas. Since January 1st 1977 it has also had the specific task of watching over Norway’s 200 mile economic zone.

The memorial stone with its bronze plaque next to the laburnums and the flag pole at the Boating Club’s Race Box were generously provided by the Norwegians following correspondence between David Owen when Treasurer and Major (later Colonel) Egil Johansen who flew many missions to Norway from Woodhaven. The stone was unveiled on 4th May 1975 by General Stenwig, R No A F, a Woodhaven veteran.

To this day, Norwegians still visit Woodhaven and the Norwegian flag is flown on Norwegian National Day, maintaining a tradition started by Mr Rankine after the war.

Over 840 photographs taken by the Norwegians during their stay are now here in the Galleries. They are reproduced with thanks to Gerd Garnes, their owner.