residents and visitors to Johnshaven turned out in force on Tuesday morning to bid farewell to a 100 year old Norwegian open fishing boat that carried four courageous men across the North Sea in WWII.
Desperate to escape the clutches of Nazi occupation they “borrowed” the boat - VA 92 L - from a known Nazi collaborator, and made a remarkable and heroic crossing to Scotland, coming ashore at Old Portlethen on July 28 1941.
The boat VA 92 L was sold at Stonehaven, and for the next four decades operated as a creel boat from the port, having been renamed Thistle. She finished up in an unseaworthy state on the quayside at Johnshaven, and in 2012 she will undertake her final voyage – back to Norway, where the Museum at Lista (where she was made and was registered) will restore her for display. She will become a fitting tribute to all the brave men and women who crossed the North Sea in those dark war years.
Members of Johnshaven Heritage Society acted as hosts to the large crowd who attended the ceremony, which saw the boat being lifted on to a lorry to begin it’s final journey back to Norway.
Johnshaven Primary School pupils, who have been doing a special project on the boat, treated the crowd to a performance of the song ‘Loch Lomond’ adapted for the occasion and the pipe band of Lathallan School, near Johnshaven, provided musical entertainment and piped a final farewell to the Thistle.
The Lord Lieutenant of Kincardinshire, Mrs Carol Kinghorn, and the Honorary Consul for Norway, Mr Keith MacRae gave short speeches, with Mr MacRae praising the local schoolchildren for their involvement. He added: “This really is a wonderful tale and is suitable for a sea-faring community like Johnshaven. It is a tale of courage, endeavour and ultimately triumph for the four brave Norwegians who made the journey in this boat.”
Captain Johan Campbell, a former captain of the Norwegian Navy, had flown in from Bergen for the occasion.
Adding to the excitement of the day was the announcement of some important gifts towards the project to restore Thistle / VA 92 L for display at Lista Museum as a memorial to the thousand of brave Norwegians who risked everything to cross the North Sea. Mr John Ross of Stonehaven, whose family owned and worked the boat at Stonehaven for four decades donated replicas of the mast and sails used by the original boat in the escape, and Captain Johan Campbell negotiated the donation of a Manar engine, propeller and shaft as were fitted in the boat at the time.
A sturdy steel boat carrier has been specially constructed for the homeward journey by St Cyrus engineers Ross Agri Services. The transportation to Aberdeen docks is being provided by ARR Craib Ltd of Aberdeen. The sound system for the event was provided by Robert Ritchie Hi-Fi of Montrose.
It was announced during the ceremony that local man Murray McBey owns an almost exact replica of the Thistle which will remain in Johnshaven so that the village will always have a reminder of the remarkable story that brought the boat to rest with them for so long.