Town mark’s 70th anniversary of lifeboat tragedy

Arbroath remembered one of the darkest day in its history recently, when the lives of six of the town’s lifeboat crew were lost during a rescue.

Mark Dowie
Tuesday, 31st October 2023, 12:00pm
Town mark’s 70th anniversary of lifeboat tragedy

Friday marked the 70th anniversary of the event which was acknowledged by members of the RNLI laying wreaths at sea and in the cemetery in which the crewmen are buried, as well as a service of remembrance in the West Kirk.

It was October 27, 1953 when the Robert Lindsay was launched after distress rockets were seen three miles east of Fifeness. Hours later, as the lifeboat made its return to harbour, it capsized. All but one crew member, second coxswain Archibald Smith, were killed. The distress rockets are believed to have come from a ship called the Islandmagee, which also sank with the loss of its six crew.

The Arbroath lifeboat joined the search for the stricken ship in very rough conditions, with strong winds and heavy swells. At 4.20am the lifeboat sent a radio message suggesting it should return to harbour but would wait until daylight to see the conditions at Arbroath sandbar, which lay 300 yards east of the harbour piers.

At 5am the coxswain sent another message saying they expected to reach harbour in 20 minutes, but they never made it back. As the boat struggled, it was struck by a steep wave which capsized it instantly.

The tragedy was witnessed by scores of onlookers who were watching the lifeboat's return to shore. They watched as the boat's lights disappeared at 5.47am. The coastguard rushed to the scene and managed to bring Archibald Smith ashore.

The victims included brothers, Charles and David Cargill, aged 28 and 29; the oldest crew member was Harry Swankie, 63, who died alongside his nephew William Swankie, aged 30. The two remaining casualties were coxswain David Bruce, 48, and bowman Thomas Adams, 33.

Volunteer coxswain, Michael Marr, said: “It is a huge part of the history here in Arbroath, and the six who sadly lost their lives are forever in our thoughts, especially during stormy weather, we remember the ultimate sacrifice they made in saving lives at sea.”

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