Wick’s memorial to those lost at sea

Wick Is built around the mouth of Wick Bay, an inlet in the coastline in the far north of Scotland.  At the central point of this bay is the harbour and from there the town rises along both cliff tops leading out to neighbouring villages north and south of the town.  Originally Wick was a small village on the north side of the bay but the  creation of a new harbour on the south side in the 19th century led to the beginnings of Pulteneytown – with all its various spellings – and the two merged together and turned Wick into one of the largest fishing ports in Europe.  Such were the number of herring boats that now frequented the harbour, it was said you could walk across the bay from north to south without ever getting your feet wet.  One of the men credited with bringing the herring fishing to Wick a hundred years earlier was an ancestor of mine and many other ancestors also lived their lives by the pull of the tide.

Over the centuries Wick did not escape its losses however and the geos and ancient harbours that follow the coastline around the town are littered with wrecks of boats that never made it to safety.  A famous loss was Black Saturday when in 1848 a terrible storm raged across the North of Scotland and 94 men were lost, 37 of them from Wick alone.  Two more ancestors of mine were lost rescuing other ships that were floundering in their jobs as pilots (the previous form of tug boats) and every family has their tale of loss from children playing outside their houses on the rocks to the 150 people who left the North during the clearances for a chance of another life in Canada only for their boat to founder off Newfoundland and leave only 16 survivors.

A few years ago a group of folk got together and decided that there should be a memorial dedicated to all those who had been lost over the centuries.  The town already had the Soldiers Tower located on the path leading along the North cliff that was dedicated to the townsfolk who had fought in the wars but apart from local historians and information boards, there was nothing for what had basically been the lifeline of the town.  This monument was unveiled a couple of weeks ago on the opposite side of the bay from the Soldiers Tower standing proud above the old fishing grounds and market.  An imposing bronze statue of a fisherman standing guard above the bay looking out towards the North Sea and the expanse of sky above, herring and seaweed draped over one arm stretched outwards towards the sea and the other pointing down to plaques and names of some of those lost.

The morning of the unveiling, so close to coronation times, brought a welcome sight as a Saltire was spotted draped on it, a gift from a local townsperson who had been fearful of the pomp and ceremony taking over and aware of the abundance of Union flags left over that had bedecked the town streets shortly beforehand.  We have lifeboat day next week, an extremely well attended event and the memorial will add another poignant aspect to it.  For an organisation that came into being on the back of these early tragedies across Britain and has saved millions, it is ridiculous that it is entirely funded on donation.  As the wife of a crew member, I am aware that there is plenty recognition for crew members from royalty as if to make up for the lack of funding but not only that, the Westminster government felt that it has the right to order who they do and do not save by attempting to criminalise them if they rescued migrants.  How this could not even have occurred to the government that the RNLI may fall foul of this legislation was shocking and showed how out of touch governments can be.  The same thing is happening just now with the furore over Highly Protected Marine Areas; to those in Edinburgh it may only be a tiny bit of the Scottish coastline that is being affected but they fail to recognise that this relatively small piece of coastline covers practically the entire populated area.

As we remember those from the past who were associated with the northern waters, we cannot forget those from the present when we try to protect the future.