Ever since she was a little girl, standing at the harbour, Yvonne Findlay has been in thrall to fishing and fishing boats, drawn to the sea and fascinated by those who work on the water.
Her father was in the Royal Navy, her parents were based at HMS Fulmar in Lossiemouth and, from her childhood years, her idea of a grand day out was to wander around the port, looking at the boats and marvelling at the names of such vessels as the Golden Splendour, The Verbena and The Sublime.
Everything about the experience captivated her and piqued her imagination, from the sound of the gulls to the smack of the brine and Yvonne has never forgotten the occasions when her dad would wake her in the middle of the night and take her to the fish market to watch the landing of the latest catch.
Sadly, though, while it seemed the industry was a bedrock of the Moray community, it wasn’t to last, as one boat after another disappeared from the harbour; a demise she has described as “heartbreaking to witness”.
But as long as there are people left to tell their stories and others to listen, the legacy of these fisher folk will live on.
And Yvonne has ensured that happens with a new book, which she has poured her heart and soul into for many years, and which provides a voice for those who no longer cast their nets.
She has been a passionate supporter of the Lossiemouth Fisheries and Community Museum since it was opened in the summer of 1984 by Dr Joan Mackinnon and Mrs Sheila Lochhead – the daughters of the former Prime Minister James Ramsay MacDonald – and she has also recorded conversations with many fishermen, either in English or the Doric language that is still such a prevalent feature across the region.
So we hear from such redoubtable individuals as Will Stewart, born in 1932, who worked on the Fruitful Bough, but also on several research ships, and who has packed a lot into his peripatetic existence, including dealing with an ecological disaster in the far north of Scotland.
Will recalled: “We were sent up to Shetland for the oil spill, a very big oil spill, at Sumburgh Head.
“The Braer oil tanker ran aground in January 1993 and we went up to investigate the effects (of the incident).
“We were issued with protective suits to take part in the clean-up and the research lab was assessing the damage.
It was heartbreaking to witness the disappearance of the fishing boats from the harbour.”
“The storm tides up there eventually cleared the oil away but there was a lot of damage to sea creatures. That was another adventure.
“When I came home from the Marine lab expeditions, all the fishermen would say: ‘Did you get any fish? Did you get any fish?’
“However, I was not out to catch fish, we only wanted a sample for research, but it was very interesting.
“I was born to go to sea.”
Then, there are the memories of the late John Crockett MBE, who died in 2017, but wrote down some of his experiences – which included a shipwreck on Strathy Point in June 1950 where it was a near-miracle nobody was killed after the Balmoral smashed into rocks in the early hours of the morning.
He and a colleague, Willie Stewart, subsequently braved perilous conditions to seek help and, as he declared: “The skipper said that when daylight came and they looked up at the cliff and saw the height and steepness, they couldn’t believe that we could have made it to the top.
“I must admit neither did I when we looked down in the daylight. But they do say that ‘God looks after his own’ and my guardian angel has certainly always been with me in all my years at sea and my many close shaves.”
That wasn’t the only accident in which he was involved.
But there were plenty of happier times as well, such as his meeting with a number of Hollywood’s biggest stars in the 1950s.
He said: “When we were fishing out of Galway, our crew met and had drinks with John Wayne, Maureen O’Hara, Victor McLaglen and Barry Fitzgerald while they were filming The Quiet Man at Connemara, just up the river.
“John Wayne was every bit as nice as his screen image.
“The beautiful Maureen O’Hara stayed drink for drink with the boys. But Barry Fitzgerald lived up to his screen image and never bought a round the whole night.
“Victor McLaglen offered to fight anyone in the pub and I think he was still acting the part in the film, but nobody took up his offer just in case he meant it.
“He was built like a tank. It was a great night.”
Yvonne’s work, A Way Of Life Now Gone, is replete with such tales and she was determined to ensure these stalwart characters would be commemorated.
She told me: “My father was based at HMS Fulmar with the Royal Navy and the Lossiemouth fishing community had a great influence on my life.
“It was heartbreaking to witness the disappearance of the fishing boats from the harbour.
“I feel the impact on our coastal communities, following the loss of the fishing industry, has not been fully recorded.
“I think we lost so much – a way of life which, over centuries, united communities and passed on to the young, skills, values, faith and respect.
“I therefore produced this book as a tribute to the hard work, humour and tenacity of the Lossiemouth fishermen and families.
“I have been working on it, on and off, for about five years but other commitments took precedence over this project.
“However, lockdown, although it was not without many challenges, offered the opportunity to prioritise the book.”
She added: “All the fishermen’s stories have impressed me, I never tire of reading them, and I admire their commitment to community and hard work.
“However, if I must single out one individual who made a particular impression on me, it would be my uncle, Alex Garden, whose kindness and stories of the sea greatly influenced my life.
“Indeed, it was him who introduced me to the tremendous work which the fishermen were doing at the Lossiemouth Fisheries and Community Museum and this has proved to be inspirational.”
She has left no stone unturned, faithfully transcribed the thoughts and musings of so many men whose chronicles might otherwise have gone untold and created a monument to a piece of Moray’s history.
One suspects there will be no shortage of readers for this treasure trove of maritime lore and memorabilia.
- A Way Of Life Now Gone is available from several local shops in Moray. Contact email@example.com for more details.