Marking the 50th Anniversary of the Longhope Lifeboat Disaster
Today as the sun shone over Orkney and the wind whipped up white horses on the Pentland Firth the community of Brims, Longhope came together to mark the 50th anniversary of the loss of the lifeboat T.G.B.
Relatives of those lost were joined by friends, community representatives and RNLI staff for a day of commemorations.
The day started at 1130 when RNLI lifeboats from Longhope, Thurso, Stromness and Wick formed in front of the Longhope Lifeboat Museum, a maroon (flare) was fired and a wreath was laid by the crew of the Longhope Lifeboat. Following the wreath laying a two minute silence was held by those assembled in the museum and those aboard the lifeboats, a second maroon signalled the end of the silence.
The day’s events had been organised by many of those directly affected by the tragedy and were led by Kevin Kirkpatrick, current RNLI Longhope Coxswain, who lost his father, grandfather and uncle on the night of the disaster.
Dr Iain Cromarty opened the event and introduced Brian Miles (Inspector of Lifeboats for Scotland in 1969) who read from a poem and said: “When you think of the conditions that evening the T.G.B was not capsized in the traditional sense but was overwhelmed by maelstrom like conditions. The loss of T.G.B captured the hearts of the whole RNLI family”, addressing Kevin Kirkpatrick (current Longhope Coxswain) Brian continued, “Kevin, your father and grandfather would be so proud that you are Coxswain of a station that meant so much to them.”
Chair of the RNLI’s Scottish Council and RNLI Trustee, Rear Admiral Roger Lockwood CB, said: “I thank all of our crews for what they do and above all, I thank your families. As we heard, 50 years ago it was the widows and families who insisted that the lifeboat continue in this community”.
Those assembled were also addressed by George Watkins from the village of Longhope in Gloucestershire. Following the disaster the English village did a lot to raise funds for and support the bereaved families of T.G.B’s crew. Mr Watkins remembers bringing his family to meet some of those supported for the first time in 1983 and feeling the full impact of the community’s loss hit home.
To close the first part of the commemoration in the Lifeboat Museum, the local choir sang A Thousand Miles Apart, a song that links the crews and families of those in Longhope and Penlee, who faced their own tragedy on 19 December 1981 when their lifeboat Solomon Browne was lost with all hands. Kathleen Houghton also read a poem dedicated to the lost crew. RNLI lifeboats then departed in order to collect at Kirk Hope and to dip their flags in respect to the memorial and graves of the lost crew.
An hour later RNLI crews from five stations, Longhope, Stromness, Wick, Thurso and Kirkwall, formed a guard of honour, in their yellows, as the community gathered in the kirk yard above Kirk Hope. As the clouds gathered, reflecting the somber mood of all gathered around, prayers were said and wreaths were laid at the memorial to those lost 50 years ago today.
To finish the day’s events, everyone collected in the Longhope YM (village hall) for further speeches and a performance by the community’s children of three songs, Heroes of Longhope, Orkney and Rose of St Magnus.
Paul Daly, Area Lifesaving Manager in Scotland West and a previous Divisional Inspector for Longhope Lifeboat Station, articulated the very definition of what it means to be part of an RNLI lifeboat crew, and the legacy which Longhope’s crew carry on: “The legacy of the Longhope Lifeboat Station will be the enduring willingness by the crew to turn out on a dark night, going forth, sometimes with sketchy information, to pluck someone from disaster.”
Notes to editors
For historical information and information on our existing Lifeboat crew please see our original press release https://rnli.org/news-and-media/2019/march/12/tragedy-in-the-pentland-firth-marking-the-longhope-lif...
Wreaths were laid by the following people/on behalf of the following organisations:
Lord Lieutenant Bill Spence
Orkney Islands Council Convenor
Capt Chris Smith – Royal Navy
George Watkins - representing Longhope Gloucestershire
Wreaths were laid for each of the lost crew (left) by a member of the current crew (right):
Dan Kirkpatrick Kevin Kirkpatrick
Jimmy Johnston Ian Avis
Ray Kirkpatrick Steve Rhodes
Sodger Bob Angus Budge
Jimmy Swanson Colin Bates
Robbie Johnston Stella Kirkpatrick
Jack Kirkpatrick Jack Kirkpatrick
Erkie McFadyen Alec Sinclair
Scottish Parliament Reaction:
Earlier this week the Scottish Parliament held a 30 minute ‘debate’ to mark the anniversary of the disaster. The ‘debate’ garnered cross-party support and representatives of the RNLI were hugely touched by the showing of support.
Liam McArthur, MSP for Orkney was first to pay his respects to those who lost their lives. He said:
“50 years on and neither the significance nor poignancy of that tragic event have diminished. In seven minutes, it is not possible to do justice to what happened or the bravery of those who lost their lives that night, but it is right that parliament has an opportunity to mark that anniversary and pay tribute to Dan Kirkpatrick and his crew”.
Conservative MSP Jamie Halcro Johnston talked emotionally of his connection with the RNLI and the deep sadness in the community at this time of remembrance. Jamie said:
“When I was young, my mother chaired the local ladies lifeboat guild so from an early age I helped fundraising efforts to support the lifeboats work in Orkney. But more importantly, I learned to the commitment of those men, of their sacrifice and of their bravery. To mark the 50th anniversary, the RNLI flag will fly at half-mast at the headquarters in Poole. It will also be lowered at lifeboat stations around the country. But, as always, they will remain on call, ready to respond. That is the most fitting tribute to those eight men from Orkney who didn’t come home.”
Commending the strength of the community in dealing with such a tragedy, Labour MSP Rhoda Grant said:
“To lose a quarter of your community in one night is difficult to come back from and it is a testament to the strength of those who remained that they have supported the families and gone on to provide a fitting tribute to those lost. Personal loss was enormous. To lose one family member is tragic, to lose generations is unimaginable. The tragedy brings home to us the sacrifice made by those who provide voluntary emergency services.”
Key facts about the RNLI
The RNLI charity saves lives at sea. Its volunteers provide a 24-hour search and rescue service around the United Kingdom and Republic of Ireland coasts. The RNLI operates over 238 lifeboat stations in the UK and Ireland and more than 240 lifeguard units on beaches around the UK and Channel Islands. The RNLI is independent of Coastguard and government and depends on voluntary donations and legacies to maintain its rescue service. Since the RNLI was founded in 1824, its lifeboat crews and lifeguards have saved over 142,700 lives.