Stornoway Gazette 1942
An Atlantic Double - Two Lewismen decorated for saving shipmates
When a British ship was torpedoed in the North Atlantic , some months ago, there were two Lewis seamen in the crew, Angus Murray A.B. of 25 South Shawbost and John Maciver A.B. of 14 New Tolsta.
They got away in separate lifeboats and the lifeboats were separated in a gale. Murray, by his skilful seamanship, brought one boat to safety after nine and a half days. Maciver by his skilful seamanship saved the other.
It is now officially announced that each of them is to receive the British Empire Medal for ‘skill and resource in bringing survivors to safety in circumstances that would have daunted the bravest'.
There have been several occasions since war began on which a single list of awards has included the names of as many as three Lewis seamen, but this is the first on which two Lewis seamen have been decorated simultaneously for gallantry arising out of one incident.
SS Richmond Castle Torpedoed
In 1942 John Maciver Iain Mhic Crò and Angus Murray Shawbost were shipmates on the Richmond Castle .
On 4 th August 1942 the unescorted, 7,798 tons Union Castle liner, Richmond Castle was torpedoed and sunk by U-176' southeast of Cape Farewell, some 700 miles east of Newfoundland. There was just enough time, from the point of impact until the ship sank, to launch the lifeboats.
Angus Murray later wrote, “I assisted in lowering the last boat as the ship heeled over, sinking. I shinned down a fall and swam to the lifeboat. It was waterlogged. We had to swim to a raft as the lifeboat capsized. It took quite an effort to right the boat and to bale her out. A lot of its equipment including the sails, food and water was lost. There were eighteen of us, including the Chief Officer, aboard. John Maciver was in another boat with the Second Officer. The Captain was in the third lifeboat.”
The U-boat surfaced briefly beside them and kindly gave food and field dressings to the three boats. The first night the three boats sailed in tow on course for Newfoundland , but during the night a westerly gale blew up and they lost sight of each other for several hours. The Captain's boat kept heading for Newfoundland , but John's boat and Angus's boat set of in tow again, but this time they were heading for Ireland. However they soon drifted apart and lost sight of each other.
Angus Murray describing conditions wrote, “As the days passed we seemed to be making good progress. However, we could only guess at our speed. Daytime was not too bad, but it got very cold at night. We rubbed each other's hands and feet with oil to restore circulation and generate a bit of warmth. The daily water ration was the main thing we looked forward to, though we also took a little food.”
On their tenth day at sea Angus and the others in his boat were picked up by a Navy Corvette and landed in Londonderry.
A young radio officer in the lifeboat, Peter Franklin of Yorkshire , said of Angus: "He was the only fellow in the boat who knew anything about small boats, and our Chief Officer had the sense to let him get on with it. His soft gentle manner gave us confidence and hope."
The conditions in John Maciver's lifeboat would have been very similar to those described by Angus and ,no doubt, just like Angus, John with his experience of open boats in Tolsta, would have played a key part in sailing the boat.
It was several days later before John was rescued by the SS Suffolk – a ship that John had previously served on. What a coincidence and what a reception he would have got from his former shipmates. But rescue came too late for many of the crew members of Richmond Castle . Of the original 18 in that lifeboat only 7 survived their punishing ordeal in the Atlantic.
John and Angus were indeed worthy recipients of the British Empire Medal.
Several weeks after their rescue John and Angus met up again. This time in Tolsta, when Angus was a guest at the wedding of John Maciver and Catherine Campbell nighean Aonghais Eachainn of 44 North Tolsta.
Sadly John never fully recovered from his days and nights in the Atlantic in an open boat and he died a young man in May 1945, before the birth of his son Iain Aonghais .
After his death the family received the following scrolls:-
This scroll commemorates
J. Maciver, Able Seaman
Held in honour as one who served King and Country in the world war of 1939-1945 and gave his life to save mankind from tyranny. May his sacrifice help to bring the peace and freedom for which he died.
The Minister of Trasport presents his compliments and has the honour to transmit the enclosed Awards for service in the war of 1939-45.
The minister shares your sorrow that John Maciver B.E.M. in respect of whose service these Awards are granted did not live to receive them.