Fishing boat to be returned

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A historic fishing boat, stolen in WWII to make a dramatic North Sea escape to Scotland, is to be returned to Norway.

In the village of Johnshaven, preparations are being made to return a 100 year old fishing boat back to southern Norway from where it was stolen 70 years ago. Four Norwegians, desperate to escape the clutches of Nazi occupation “borrowed” the boat - VA 92 L - from a known Nazi collaborator, and made a remarkable and heroic crossing of the open North Sea to Scotland, coming ashore at Old Portlethen on July 28 1941.

After the successful escape the boat was sold as a creel boat, renamed as Thistle and worked out of Stonehaven for the next four decades. Finally unseaworthy she came to rest on the quayside at Johnshaven, donated to the Johnshaven Heritage Society. Several attempts to find funds to restore her and to find a final resting place came to no avail. Exposed to the elements her condition steadily deteriorated.

Local retired GP, historian and writer Andrew Orr learned about Thistle through his researches into the Scottish–Norwegian book Sea Dog Bamse. He was able to use his many contacts in Norway to find the offer of a permanent home for VA 92 L - the Lista Museum in West-Agder. This is the place where the boat was actually built and was registered. The Johnshaven Heritage Society generously decided to gift the boat to Norway.

In a remarkable turn of events, on July 28 2011, exactly 70 years to the day after the landing of VA 92 L, two Norwegians appeared in Johnshaven trying to find the fate of the boat. They were John and Martin Berthelsen, sons of Carl Berthelsen one of the escapees, who were absolutely delighted to find the vessel which had played such a dramatic part in their father’s life.

Now preparations are under way to send the boat back home on her final voyage. Local St Cyrus agricultural engineers Ross Agri Services are making a metal frame to support the boat during transit, and Aberdeen transport firm ARR Craib will uplift the boat from Johnhaven to Aberdeen harbour for the final North Sea crossing.

Don Marr of Johnshaven Heritage Society says: “We in Johnshaven are absolutely delighted to be able to return this historic boat to where she came from. We were just not able to preserve her here, and she now goes to a home where they have all the skills to restore and preserve her.”

Andrew Orr said: “I was very excited to unearth and research the story of this amazing and courageous North Sea escape. It’s a really crackingly good true yarn and I’m so glad to have been able to help to find a permanent home for VA 92 L, where she will stand as a memorial to the courageous men and women who came in small boats from Norway to Scotland to fight for the freedom of their country.”

John Berthelsen says: “Discovering my father’s boat after 70 years was one of the most moving moments in my life. This boat is very significant not only to my family but also to the Norwegian people as a whole, as it is probably the only surviving example of the many small open boats that braved the North Sea crossing in the war.”

The official “send off ceremony” from the village will take place on Tuesday February 7 at 11.00 am. Pupils from Johnshaven School and Lathallan Schoool will join the crowd of villagers and other interested visitors. The Lathallan School Pipe band will pipe a farewell to the boat on its final journey. The Lord Lieutenant of Kincardineshire and the Provost of Aberdeenshire are expected to be present.