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Night watchman experienced sea perils

PUBLISHED: 14:16 09 August 2010 | UPDATED: 09:49 16 September 2010

FISHING has always been a dangerous industry to work in and even today, with boats filled with hi-tech safety equipment, the element of danger is never far away.

FISHING has always been a dangerous industry to work in and even today, with boats filled with hi-tech safety equipment, the element of danger is never far away.

However, at the beginning of the last century fishing crews heading out of Lowestoft were well aware of the risks they were taking to land their catch.

One person who knows all about this is Brian Jay, of Blackheath Road, Lowestoft, who has been connected with the fishing industry in the town all his life.

He is now retired but when he was a young trainee in the late 1940s he learned from veteran seamen.

“I would whenever possible go on board the fishing vessels and listen to the stories told to me by some of the old timers,” said Mr Jay.

He made notes from these stories and has just published a booklet as a tribute to these “fishing heroes”.

One person who had some great stories to tell was Charles Henry Wright.

“I first met Charlie when he was a night watchman for a trawling company and he would either relay his stories to me while we sat on deck or while in the skipper's room of the local pub called the Bank Stores.

“Charlie was a short but stocky fellow and was well over 70 years of age when he was telling me his stories.

“Looking at his hands it was not difficult to observe that he had experienced a hard working life.His face, although showing signs of age, carried a pleasant smile which blended well with the glitter in his browned eyes,” recalled Mr Jay.

Charlie explained that he first went to sea as a “boy cook” at the age of 18 on a sailing smack out of Lowestoft.

With continuous hard work and devotion to the industry, Charlie gained his mate's ticket and on August 16, 1906, was awarded his skipper's ticket.

He continued to sail out of Lowestoft on different ships until the outbreak of the first world war in 1914.

In 1915 he was skipper of the trawler Donando Pietri LT 295 when he shot his trawl into a minefield which blew up his trawl gear.

At the end of the war Charlie said he had tried to make a living sailing on various vessels out of Lowestoft but found it a “rum old do and hard going”.

In 1926 he decided to buy his own sailing smack called the “Primrose” LT57, which he bought from Sam Turrell, and Charlie became a proud skipper-owner.

However, his pride as a skipper-owner was to be short-lived.

It was after landing a catch of fish at Ijmuiden, Holland, that Charlie decided to sail back to Lowestoft and trawl again to get more fish.

Unfortunately the vessel ran into a terrible storm after leaving Ijmuiden and the Primrose was lost.

Thankfully, all the crew were saved and were picked up by a Dutch fishing lugger and taken to Scheveningen.

In those days communication between ship and shore was somewhat limited and at Lowestoft no news was heard of the Primrose for nearly three weeks.

It was assumed she had been lost with all hands.

At last good news came when a message reached Lowestoft fish merchant George Breach that said “Primrose sunk, crew all saved and well in Scheveningen”.

The drama was big news locally and a report of the incident was covered in the Lowestoft Journal of October 30, 1926.

For the next 10 years Charlie went to sea on various vessels and saw the change of power from sail to steam.

His last time at sea as a skipper was during the second world war on the motor smack Suffolk Rose LT771 when he assisted in the evacuation of troops from Dunkirk.

Brian Jay was determined that Charlie's story should be known as it portrays an important part of Lowestoft's proud past.

His short story, Memories of a Night Watchman, has been published by the Heritage Workshop Centre, Old Schoolhouse, Wilde's Score, 80a High Street, Lowestoft.

More details about the centre can be found at www.lowestoftheritage.org.

Copies of the story are available at the Heritage Centre and at Lowestoft's Maritime Museum.


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