Great grandad's tragic trawler voyage.

The story of the South Tyneside-based steam trawler Ethelwulf, which struck a mine in 1918 '“ just three weeks after the end of the First World War '“ and sank with the loss of all hands, is indeed a tragic one.
Steam Trawler Ethelwulf and her crew. Image courtesy of North Shields Library Services.Steam Trawler Ethelwulf and her crew. Image courtesy of North Shields Library Services.
Steam Trawler Ethelwulf and her crew. Image courtesy of North Shields Library Services.

But as Michael McCarthy reveals today, in words and verse, one of the men who died – his great-grandfather Andrew Kinnear – wasn’t even supposed to be aboard that fateful day.

Indeed, if it hadn’t been for the Spanish flu hitting the crew so badly, he would have remained on dry land, and out of danger.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

But as often happens, fate determined that “he was there to make up the crew’s numbers” and subsequently paid the ultimate price.

Here is Michael’s account (supplied on behalf of the North Shields Fishermen’s Heritage Project) and poem of the demise of the Ethelwulf and its crew.

“My great-grandfather, Andrew Kinnear, was among the crew, and at the time, ran a large, fish-sales business, based on the quayside of North Shields.

“I have provided two photographs, one of which shows a turn of the century quayside scene, with his warehouses, and the other is a picture of the Ethelwulf and its crew.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

“I doubt that my great grandfather is among the crew, as he had long since finished his trawling days in order to run his shore-based business.

“He was aboard the Ethelwulf on that fateful occasion solely because the Spanish influenza epidemic had hit the crew badly, and he was there to make up the numbers.

“I believe that my late mother obtained both photographs from North Shields Library Services when she was researching family history.

“My poem tells the full story of the disaster, and is taken from my first published collection, Proppa Geordie Poyems, all profits from which have been donated to local charities.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

“This poem is dedicated to the crew of the Steam Trawler Ethelwulf, SN344, which sailed from North Shields on December 1, 1918, and subsequently struck a mine, with the loss of all hands, all of which came from North Shields. They are:

l Robert Steedman, skipper, of Dockwray Square;

l John Jameson, chief engineer, of Coburg Street;

l John Watson, second engineman, of Church Street;

l John Dodds, second hand, of Dockwray Square;

l Arthur Wray, deckhand, of Dockwray Street, and

l Andrew Kinnear (my great grandfather), deckhand, of Church Street.

This is Mr McCarthy’s poem:

A raw December mornin’ on the Fish Quay at North Shields,

It’s noo three weeks since Armistice, there’s peace in Flanders fields.

The toon is full o’ soljahs newly back home from the war,

As life gets back te normal, on Blighty’s welcome shore.

Doon on the quay it’s busy noo, the North Sea’s safe again,

The ‘silver darlin’s’ ahll cahll oot te North Shields fishermen:“Hawway an’ catch wuh if ye can, the U-boats are ahll done,

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Wuh’re waitin’ here te fill yah’re nets, wuh’re shoalin’ by the ton”.

But many boats are idle still, thuh’re badly short o’ crew,

As scores of men are sick at yem, laid low by Spanish ‘flu.

The trawler Ethelwulf is one, shuh’s badly undermanned,

The owner even has te sail, he’s listed as “deck-hand”.

Thuh buffet oot beyond the bar, the fish are strongly cahll’n,

With any luck before too long full nets thuh’ll soon be hahll’n.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

The Minesweepers have done their job, the fishin’ groonds are ‘clear’,

The Ethelwulf shoots oot hor net, an’d powers up hor gear.

The net feels full, the gear strains, te get the catch on board,

As from the deep green ocean comes a silver, glistenin’ hoard.

The crew ahll whoop, an’ give a cheer, they’re ahll in finest fettle,

But deep within that bulgin’ net they see a glint of metal.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

The Skipper’s heart leaps in his chest, he kna’s he’s short o’ time,

As in that net so bulgin’ sits a deadly Jorman mine.

Quick as a flash he stops the winch, but though he’s done his best,

The net swings on an’ strikes the stern, the mine’s steel horns are pressed.

A mighty blast churns up the sea, a sound like pealin’ thunder,

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

An’ mid that cloud o’ fire an’ smoke, the boat is torn asunder.

That deadly blast takes ahll the crew, it claims them, every one,

An’ as the smoke now clears away, the Ethelwulf has gone.

Six men have gone te join the ranks o’ ahll those ‘lost at sea’,

An’ on Tower Hill their names are carved in loving memory.

A fitting tribute te ship-mates, it marks the tragic end,

Of Merchant-men an’ Fisher-folk, on whom wuh ahll depend.

This island Nation through the years has prospered, proud an’ free,

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Our hearts gan oot, te ‘hearts of oak’, te those whee toil at sea...