Remembering the tragic loss of a Shields-based trawler and her crew

The Jeanie Stewart.
The Jeanie Stewart.

The unveiling of a memorial at North Shields Fish Quay to fishermen who have lost their lives at sea certainly brings home the risks and dangers which crews face when they leave port.

It made one Time Of Our Lives reader think of an event which occurred 80 years ago – one which is particularly personal and poignant to him and his family, as it involved the loss of his father.

Lucy and Jack Grewcock, with their son Terence, just months before the tragedy.

Lucy and Jack Grewcock, with their son Terence, just months before the tragedy.

As Terence Grewcock explains, the tragic story involves the small steam trawler Jeanie Stewart.

He says: “The trawler, SN 18 (built in Aberdeen in 1916, and owned by local firm Irvin, Richard and Sons) set out from that very same fishing quay at North Shields, on Wednesday, December 14, 1938 with Captain Mills and a crew of eight, including two men from South Shields.

“Her destination was the fishing grounds in the North Sea, off the coast of Aberdeen.

“She was scheduled to return on Christmas Eve, after spending 10 days at sea, and for the unsuspecting families, just another routine trip.

“But when Christmas Eve, then Christmas Day came and went with no news of the Jeanie Stewart, the worst was feared.

“Come January 1939, she was now officially declared ‘lost at sea’. And she never did return.

“It must have been a very bleak Christmas indeed for those families of the missing nine men, as they were eventually forced to accept the reality of the situation.”

The fishing area north of Aberdeen was searched thoroughly by other boats, but all they ever found was a roughly constructed raft, which may have belonged to the Jeanie Stewart, but nothing else.

The boat had just disappeared, taking the lives of all on board.

The tragedy continues to be a mystery to this day, and there is still no trace of the Jeanie Stewart 80 years after the event.

“As I mentioned earlier,” says Terence, “two of the crew were from South Shields. One was my father, Jack Grewcock, aged 27.

“I had been born the previous year, in 1937, the year after my parents’ marriage.

“I can be seen in the photo attached, taken in the backyard of our house in Edith Street, Lawe Top, sometime in the summer of 1938. I would have been about one year old.

(Edith Street, incidentally, was originally built right on top of the ruins of the present Arbeia Roman Fort, and the whole street was demolished in the early 60s).

“The picture was the last photo of my dad, weather-beaten after days spent on the Jeanie Stewart under the sun and wind, trawling the North Sea.

“I’m not sure about the occasion of this photo, but it could well have been a picture from my first birthday.

“I have no memories at all of my father, but I often fantasised about his disappearance when I was a child.

“As the trawler sank, I visualised him swimming desperately to some small, relatively unknown island in the North Sea where he awaited rescue. There was still hope!

“But as time passed, and I grew older, these childish fantasies gradually faded away.

“It was six months or so after this photo was taken that the Jeanie Stewart disappeared, leaving behind widows and other dependants.

“Of this group, I would have been one of the youngest at 18 months old, and I’m just beginning to wonder if I might (at 80) be the only remaining dependant alive today.

“I have never attempted to discover anything about the other dependants, as it’s only in the ‘internet age’ that this information is available, but it would be interesting to know if there are more of us still alive.

“The Fiddler’s Green memorial statue is a fitting tribute to the men working and losing their lives in this most dangerous of occupations.

“Even today, with ships radios, and other navigational aids, it still remains a hazardous job.”

On Thursday, Terrence reveals more details about the tragic crew.