Tag Archives: Sandaig

Tiree Welcomes HMS Sturdy Families

HMS sturdy ceremony

The sound of the waves, driven by the storm of the night before, onto the gravel beach in Sandaig mingled with the playing of the Tiree Pipe Band. We gathered around the new memorial to HMS Sturdy as the rising wind showed us a glimpse of the fury felt by the sailors seventy years before.

HMS Sturdy ceremony

The service, led by the Revds Peter Williams and Bruce Neill, was attended by around eighty people – three families of the crew (one had come from New South Wales to be there) alongside families from the township who had done so much to look after the exhausted men, representatives from the coastguard and Commodore Charles Stevenson who was representing the Royal Navy.

A special wreath was laid at the cairn to honour the work of Captain Donald ‘Dan’ Sinclair, Greenhill, who had instructed the crew to wait on board until low tide and had saved many lives as a result.

After the service we left to go to Soroby graveyard where we laid wreaths on the graves of the five sailors who drowned that day, as well as honouring the dead of the air forces who are also buried there. Tea was provided at An Talla and this gave a welcome chance to get out of the weather and swap stories about the Sturdy. There was also a huge display of items from the war from the collection of Mike Hughes.

At night Mike gave an illustrated talk on the impact of the war on the Hebrides, bringing his usual passion to the subject, and some stories. Apparently potatoes from the Sturdy stores have been grown in Middleton until recently. The families who had come for the event left the island full of memories, both happy and sad. Then Monday saw a huge storm batter the island, giving a taste of what it must have been like on that fateful day.

Thank you to everyone who supported the weekend, which had been initiated by Mike Gibson and organised locally by An Iodhlann.

Tiree Remembers HMS Sturdy

HMS Sturdy

“It was a Thursday, I remember it well. Willie got up – he heard something moving outside, something being blown by the wind…This would be about 6 or 7 o’clock in the morning. It was quite a rough morning and it was raining. I would call it force 9-10, a severe gale… Just before we got down there we could make out it was a naval vessel – the paint, the colour, you see. There were a lot of people there; you’d hear “Help!” [The wreck] would be about 60 yards from the gravel beach on the rocks out there. I remember – I’m sorry, I’m getting emotional – the first thing we met there, a body, a beautiful, young fellow. I picked him up and took him beyond the reach of the ocean and put him on the grass”

– the late Hugh MacLean, Barrapol.

Tiree had seen its fair share of wrecks driven ashore, but the scene on the rocks off Sandaig at first light on October 30th 1940 brought home the sickening reality of the Second World War. A Royal Navy destroyer broken in two, beaten up onto the oil soaked beach with scores of stunned sailors sheltering from the storm and five bodies left behind by the tide.

I was not able to walk very well because I had cut my feet on the rocks but the islanders seemed suddenly to appear…I was taken to a cottage where the people were very kind, my clothes were dried and I had a hot bath. I fell asleep exhausted in a beautiful bed.

– Leading Seaman Harry Springett, from the Sturdy

To honour the five seamen who lost their lives and to remember the great kindness the islanders showed to the shipwrecked sailors, a memorial has been built above the beach in Sandaig where the ship hit the rocks. 70 years, to the day, after the tragedy this memorial will be dedicated at a service on Saturday 30th October at 2pm. Relatives of the crew, along with Commodore Charles Stevenson, CBE, (Naval Regional Commander, Scotland and Northern Ireland), families of the islanders who showed such kindness to the seamen and the Tiree pipe band will be there.

After the ceremony there will be another short service in Soroby Cemetry to lay wreaths on the graves of those who lost their lives. Afterwards there will be teas at An Talla at 4pm where everyone will be welcome to meet the visitors.

In the evening at 7.30 Mike Hughes will give an illustrated talk on Tiree during the Second World War in An Talla (the last talk Mike gave at the Fèis was a sell-out! Be there early).

The memorial has been built by Bernie Smith and Sons and organised by Cmdr Mike Gibson, the son of the Sturdy’s chief engineer. The committee of An Iodhlann hopes the island will support this historic day.

Do you have anything salvaged from the Sturdy or connected with it? If so, we would love to borrow it for the evening of the 30th October. We plan to have a table of things from the wreck at Mike Hughes’ evening talk.

Please contact Dr John.