View across the Outer Harbour of Stornoway

Wednesday, 1 February 2012

Wednesday 1 February

It was fairly bright today, with the chilly southeasterly wind continuing. It is associated with a very strong area of high pressure over Siberia, 1065 mbar. That's equivalent to a whopping 800 mm on the old mercury barometers. The all-time record stands at 1085 mbar, 814 mm. The result is a surge of extremely cold air into eastern Europe. The temperature in northwestern Russia went down to minus 36, and not much warmer elsewhere in eastern Europe. The frost will be halted by the North Sea, and I am in the mildest place in the United Kingdom, in matter of fact.

Today, I was contacted by the Hebridean Archives service with a question about the wargrave of a German submariner. He had washed up dead on a now-derelict island off North Uist, 70 miles south of here, and was buried by islanders back in 1918. Otto Schatt was 31 when his U-boat was sunk off Malin Head. His remains were carried 200 miles north to end up on Heiskeir. In death, all are equal, and I have no qualms about including Otto Schatt in my remembrance of the Great War.

31 January 1953

Yesterday, it was 59 years ago since the ship MV Clan Macquarrie ran aground at Borve. All its crew were saved from the vessel thanks to the breeches buoy.

The hurricane force winds that drove the Clan Macquarrie on the rocks at Borve also blew out the window and frame of a house in Barvas, and is rumoured to have demolished the water tank for that village.

The storm brought catastrophic flooding to southern parts of England and southwestern Holland, claiming 300 lives in England and 2000 in Holland. A further 133 lives were lost in the North Channel, when the MV Princess Victoria was sunk, en route from Stranraer to Larne. The total death toll stands at 2554.

My father remembers the night of the stormflood. He lived at Arnhem at the time, and was trying to cross the bridge across the river Rhine in the city. He had to hold on to the railings to make it safely across.

It was low tide at 6pm on Saturday 31st January 1953. The people on the southwestern coast of Holland found the water at the top of the dykes protecting their towns. Six hours later, the 17 foot storm surge slammed through the dykes in dozens of places and proceeded to inundate the islands of the southwest. Film footage from the time shows the nightmare that followed. I refer to this search result of Google for a selection of images. The word watersnoodramp means stormflood disaster, and is the name given to this catastrophe in Holland.