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The loss of the Alfred Erlandsen 100 years ago led to lifeboat station for St Abbs

ST ABBS lifeboat station was established in 1911 as a direct result of the loss of the SS Alfred Erlandsen and her crew of 15 off St Abbs a century ago, and a service is planned in Coldingham churchyard on Wednesday, October 17, to commemorate the disaster on the day of the anniversary.

On October 17, 1907, the steamer The Alfred Erlandsen ran aground at St Abbs with the loss of all the crew. Now 100 years on a granite slab inscribed with a copy of the brass plaque, put up by the children of St Abbs in their church after the wreck, is to be added to the memorial that stands in Coldingham churchyard.

A report in 1907 read: "At 20.30 hrs on October 17, 1907, in raging seas and thick fog the SS Alfred Erlandsen struck the rocks known as Ebb Carrs off St Abbs.

"She was bound from Riga to Grangemouth with a cargo of timber for Kirkwood and Co, Glasgow. She was crewed by 15 Danes.

"By 21.00 hrs the fog cleared and her predicament was assessed. The Eyemouth Coastguard was immediately informed. By 22.30 hrs the Eyemouth Rocket Brigade was in position at Castle Rock Villa but the ship was out of range. The Eyemouth lifeboat, the Sarah Pickard, was on the scene about midnight but no survivors were located and she returned to port at 2.00 hrs.

"The Dunbar lifeboat had been summoned also, the signal reaching Dunbar, no 1 station, at 22.15 hrs. 50 fishermen were taken in four open carts to Skateraw where they hauled their lifeboat, the Sarah Kay, over the beach and launched her into mountainous seas at 23.00 hrs. She was powered by 15 men with oars and canvas. She was at the wreck at 3.00 hrs. From the shore they were signalled to return home. They reached Skateraw at 8.30 hrs. The crew had been rowing for almost 10 hours in treacherous seas."

As a seven year old boy, George Colven, who was later St Abbs harbourmaster for 24 years, watched helplessly from the shore alongside his grandfather and the rest of the village as the steamer hit the rocks in thick fog.

Throughout that night, Thursday, October 17, 1907, the villagers remained on the clifftops, only too aware there was nothing they could do to help the unfortunate crew.

The passing of time never erased the awful memories of that night for George, a seaman for 60 years. He would tell of the desperate rescue attempt put into motion as soon as the Alfred Erlandsen hit the rocks.

In the first decade of the 20th century, St Abbs did not boast a lifeboat, or even the most basic of rocket-firing apparatus. The nearest lifeboat was five miles south at Eyemouth, and as soon as the ship ran aground, the alarm was raised there by telephone and also at Skateraw, Dunbar, 15 miles to the north.

Life-saving apparatus on a heavy four wheeled wagon was soon on its way from Eyemouth pulled by a team of farm horses but their efforts were in vain.

The lifeboats from Eyemouth and Skateraw were having no more success. The crews pulled as one on the oars through the heavy easterly swell, but it was nearly four hours before the Dunbar lifeboat men neared the scene. Rescuers found the sea was covered with hundreds of heavy pit props and other wreckage, which had boken loose from the stricken vessel. Several times the two lifeboats were in great danger of being sunk by the heavy timbers as the sea swept them shoreward, and eventually realising there was nothing they could do the boats headed back to their stations.

In all, the Skateraw crew were at sea for ten hours.

As dawn approached, the fog lifted, and the jagged remains of the 598-ton Alfred Erlandsen revealed that she had steamed right into the middle of the semi-circular Ebbs Carr rocks.

Although none of the crew lived through the night, one survivor did make it ashore. A Great Dane dog swam through the pounding surf and was found roaming the cliff tops above White Heugh Bay, north of St. Abbs.

Carro, as he was named, after the rocks which had claimed his master's life, became something of a local celebrity and he spent his remaining years in the household of Sir George Douglas at Springwood Park, Kelso.

The incredible tale of his survival was related time and time again and, during the First World War, he raised considerable sums of money for the Red Cross.

As a direct result of the Alfred Erlandsen disaster, a lifeboat station was established at St Abbs. On April 25, 1911, the Helen Smitten was launched, funded mainly by the Usher brewery family who lived in the village's Northfield House.

A Wolseley car engine had been adapted and fitted into the lifeboat, and this greatly reduced the time it took to reach vessels in distress.

The night the Alfred Erlandsen and her crew perished is still vivid in George Colven's memory and speaking about it to Bob Thomson 80 years later he said: "I've often thought about it and it's my personal opinion that the master of the ship, Julius Larsen, was not to blame on account of bad navigation.

"A few hundred yards more sea-room would have kept the ship on a safe course, but there was an easterly storm, dense fog and a very heavy sea. Also, she had no wireless or navigation aids."

In 1982, a family visited St Abbs from Denmark. The husband introduced himself to George as Jakob Larsen, the son of the Alfred Erlandsen's master and he had brought his family on a pilgrimage to the village to see the reef where his father had lost his life.

"I told them the story, just as I'm telling it to you," George told Bob Thomson."They were all deeply moved."

The Larsens kept in touch with George after their visit and one of his proudest possessions was a ribboned medal Jakob sent to him inscribed simply, "In Memory, October 17, 1907".

 
 
 

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