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Shelter from the storm: New book celebrates the vital work of the Fishermen’s Mission

It’s an organisation that has provided support and solace to generations of sailors and their families across the north and north east of Scotland.

And now, the Fishermen’s Mission is celebrating its 140th anniversary by publishing a special ebook, chronicling the work it does and recounting the memories of some of the myriad people who have benefited from its range of services.

In practical terms, the mission cares for fishermen and their loved ones through financial, practical and pastoral support, whether helping with emergency grants, budgeting, and benefit claiming or assisting with bereavement and grief, including the planning of funerals with those whose loved ones have been taken by the sea.

But it also offers a place for those who ply their trade in the water and often, especially in the Scottish winter, have to deal every day with peril from Fraserburgh to Fair Isle.

The Fishermen's Mission helps people all across of Scotland's fishing communities.
The Fishermen’s Mission helps people across all of Scotland’s fishing communities.

It was back in 1881 that Ebenezer Mather was the driving force for the creation of the Fishermen’s Mission.

At that stage, maritime disasters, whether in the country’s many fishing communities, among lifeboat crews, or with larger vessels foundering on the rocks which surround this island, were an all-too-common occurrence.

One only has to examine the veil of tristesse that enveloped the likes of Fraserburgh after so many lifeboat tragedies to understand why there was a desperate need to help those who were left at home in the wake of these disasters.

On April 28 1919, for instance, coxswain Andrew Noble and second coxswain Andrew Farquhar were killed after the lifeboat Lady Rothes capsized while it was responding to a mayday call in the north east.

The incident was the first tragedy to hit the port’s lifeboat crew after it was established in 1831.

The vessel was launched to help the HM drifter, Eminent, which was going aground near Fraserburgh Bay.

As the Lady Rothes crossed the bay, she got knocked on her boom end and many of the 13 crew on board ended up in the water.

Horrified members of the public watched the incident unfold without having any means of rescuing the victims. And such events have blighted the Broch on a regular basis.

Ebenezer Mather founded the Fishermen’s Mission in 1881.

One of the grimmest fates befell the Duchess of Kent lifeboat, which set off in a fierce storm to help a Danish fishing boat, the Opal, on January 21 1970.

But it was hit by a huge wave en route and overturned 58km off the coast of the port.

Of the six men on board, only one survived. John Stephen, 45, and his team – engineer Fred Kirkness, 56, James Buchan, 29, William Hadden, 34, and James Slessor Buchan, 48 – were all lost at sea.

The only survivor was second engineer John Jackson Buchan. And once again, as it had done several times in the past, the community mourned its lost ones, while the Fishermen’s Mission made sure that the victims were both honoured and their families offered aid at a time when they were at their most vulnerable.

“With courage nothing is impossible”: The Fraserburgh lifeboat crew.

When the pandemic struck the world last year, Aberdeen Fishermen’s Mission appealed to fishing families left struggling to make ends meet to get in touch for lifeline support.

The organisation’s area officer in Aberdeen, Kenny Brandie, said at the time: “We know how difficult life is at the moment. We also know that asking for help is never easy.

‘We are always there to help’

“But we are always here to listen and give practical guidance. The support we can give you may make all the difference. Together, we can get through this crisis, so do not hesitate, call us today.”

Even now, 18 months later, there are pressures on so many fisher folk. But, wherever you look, Mission staff are striving to ease any problems which arise.

The Fishermen's Mission book can be accessed online.
A new ebook highlights the work of the Fishermen’s Mission.

The new book contains a variety of striking recollections and testimonies from sailors, fishermen, wives and those involved with the Mission to lend succour and protection.

It’s a reminder of the dangers encountered on a daily basis by those who venture into Scotland’s often choppy waters and brave the elements to earn a living.

Fundraising manager Andy Malcolm told us: “(The) Fishermen’s Mission serves the active and retired fishing communities of north-east Scotland from their centres in Peterhead, Fraserburgh and Aberdeen.

“Port coverage also extends to Caithness and Moray in the north and Fife and Tayside in the south.

“Our officers are on hand to help fishermen and their families, retired and active, with practical welfare help and emergency care following an incident at sea.

“This may mean emergency financial support, help with benefits and longer-term grant support. We can help with medical referrals, educational needs, and housing issues.

“We also care for our retired fishing community with home and hospital visits, planning funerals and working with other agencies to prevent loneliness and isolation.”

With winter on the horizon, their labours never stop. But there will be plenty of people across the region who are glad the organisation is there in the background.