Cromarty Archive

Wreck of the Servus - 1959

Wreck of the Servus - 1959

Date Added: 14 October 2003 Contributor: Clem Watson Year: 1959 Picture No: 533

During unusually severe gales the Servus came to grief off the Caithness coast. The Cromarty lifeboat attended the scene, rescuing all the crew.

Albums: The Sea


This was quite a remarkable rescue in many ways, three lifeboats were called to assist, Buckie, Wick and
Cromarty. Buckie returned to port in severe SE'ly gale, Wick could not put to sea, off her slip, which would have been into the SE'ly breakers.

Cromarty launched with a scratch crew. Quoting the ''Scottish Post Office Journal'' :- Albert Watson, our Mail Contractor on the Cromarty/Invergordon Ferry, is Coxswain of the Cromarty Lifeboat. During the height of a terrific storm in December 1959, he was at sea for over 16 hours, and returned to Cromarty with all 8 members of the crew of the ill fated Leith steamer SERVUS after battling through the night in heavy seas, on return he immediately transferred to his own boat and went to Invergordon on his regular Mail service.

Albert was awarded the RNLI's Silver Medal for bravery, his brother John the Bronze Medal, and the remaining Crew 'Thanks on Vellum'
Comment left on 08 September 2005 at 22:37 by Clem Watson
It had to be a very rough day for Albert to miss a trip to Invergordon. Isn't that right Clem? Comment left on 09 September 2005 at 16:10 by Jessie Bird (Reid)
I was on the ferry with albert for a year when I left school, and as far as I remember we only missed maybe a couple of runs during that time, we would drop his brother john off at the lifeboat on our way up to do his maintenance, and pick him up on our way back, Albert wore an old jacket he used on his coal rounds and he would rake around in a pocket, produce a handful of coal dust, give it a blow to disclose some pandrops, which he would share with me, with the comment, twa sooks and a spit and they will be all right. Comment left on 11 September 2005 at 19:20 by Ian Jack
What a great anecdote, Ian!
I remember Granny watching Albert's run to Invergordon in stormy weather. "oh! the craitur's foondered!"
But Albert always conquered!
Comment left on 12 September 2005 at 03:51 by Margaret Tong
Thank you Jessie for that comment, plenty 'weet sarks' had to be replaced for each trip on days when there were gale West to Sou'West winds. Thee're no talkin' licht. Hope thee're keepan' fine thanks?
good'le hear f'ae thee!
Comment left on 12 September 2005 at 16:15 by Clem Watson
Ian, I liked the one about the pan-drops! Albert (my Dad) used to play some tricks on his brother John
coming ashore of the Lifeboat at anchor, with an ebb on passing the life boat could get up to 6/7 knots,
and if Dad was in a hurry to get cargo of ''Barrels to the Arms'' John had to show the athleticism of a
gazelle 'to mak for 'imsel' to leap on to the 'Henterprise'. A second approach would not be tolerated!
It would be considered a waste of time! Thee ken thee'sel !!
Comment left on 12 September 2005 at 16:31 by Clem Watson
Clem, it had to be the Enterprise to get 6/7 knots as the old Endeavour managed about 5 1/2 and that was doonhill wi a following wind. I don't know what the health and safety folkies would say about it nowadays. Still they kept the toon supplied with everything from loaf to butcher meat - we used to have to carry the open tubs of tripe doon the steps and it sloshing around all over the place. I have never tried tripe and never will after seeing it (and smelling it). The beef carcasses were wrapped in muslin and we would stick the hook into the leg, push them over the side of the pier and slide them doon aboard to lie on top of the mail bags, no word of bugs then, and it hasn't done the Croms any harm I can see. The bread came from Glasgow on the train to the co-op. It would have been second day's by then, but still tasted good - not so good as Mathieson's though mind you. Comment left on 12 September 2005 at 18:06 by Ian Jack
Are Mathiesons still going? I remember Derek used to come round to Jemimaville in his van a few times a week. The cry was "Has Matheison Cromarty passed yet?" Oh Happy Days Comment left on 14 September 2005 at 23:02 by Mary Mackay now Harrison
To the Coxswain and Crew of the Cromarty Lifeboat (Poem written shortly afterwards)

The rescue of the Crew of the ‘Servus’

With breakers to windward and rocks on the lea
The ‘Servus’ was drifting engulfed by the sea
A sea mountain high by a storm from the East
Disturbed from its sleep like a mad wounded beast.

The waves and the billows were sweeping her o’er
Till it seemed they were doomed from Eternity’s shore
Stricken and helpless she tossed on the wave
The coaster called ‘Servus’ was bound for her grave.

Yet out through the Sutors that wild stormy night
The Cromarty Lifeboat emerged to the fight
With eight men on board who knew nought of fear
Whatever the outcome their duty was clear.

To the cries of distress they had answered the call
Forgetful of self �“ they had volunteered �“ all
This errand of mercy must simply not fail
Whatever the force of the sea or the gale.

Onward and onward the Lifeboat bore on
At times all on board must have thought she was gone
Pitching and rolling but still in control
Surging ahead to their faraway goal.

What courage on board may never be told
Yet their journey that night can never grow old
For those yet unborn will listen with pride
To the tale of the brave who might all have died.

At long last they sighted the ‘Servus’ ahead
At a time when hope more or less had them fled
By skilful manoeuvring the Lifeboat drew nigh
To the side of the coaster as she pitched mountain high.

It seemed she must perish as close she drew
But brave coxswain Watson knew just what to do
As off from the ‘Servus’ with half of her men
He swung round about to do it again.

These brave lifeboat seamen completed their job
By saving the lives which the sea tried to rob
A feat of great note as all will declare
Which coxswain and seamen may worthily share.

The ’Servus’ now lies on a lone Caithness shore
To sail o’er the ocean, oh never, no more
While her master and crew will never forget
The Cromarty Lifeboat or its men �“ gladly met.

J. Jack (Avoch)
Comment left on 14 March 2007 at 12:20 by Garve
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