The 31st of January 1953 saw one of those such events, that would not be easily forgotten by the people of Lochbroom, and even Europe. The disaster, which has now been dubbed the North Sea Flood of 1953, saw devastation on a monumental scale throughout the Netherlands, Belgium, England and Scotland. The combination of a spring tide and a windstorm caused a horrific storm surge which saw storm defenses overwhelmed, widespread flooding and significant loss of life.
Lochbroom’s local boats had sought shelter in the loch, along with a large number of vessels from the East coast and Northern Isles. The deep-sea loch hoped to provide some element of sanctuary from the prevailing storm and crews also seemed happy enough to take shelter for the weekend and enjoy themselves, some well-earned respite from their grueling work on board the fishing boats.
During the early morning of the 31st of January, Lochbroom was pounded by 120 mph winds, which saw the entire fleet at harbour in Lochbroom washed up high on the shore. Locals at the time did not seem to think much of it and put it down to normal winter storms, until the full extent of the carnage was discovered the next day.
Mary Catherine of Ullapool remembers the night-
…Burns Night in the Village Hall…when we came out of the Village Hall, about one o’clock in the morning, we got the shock of our lives, because the gale had taken full force, and I’ve never heard anything quite like it before then, or since then...
Getting the fleet back in the loch was an exceptionally complex task, and it was soon clear that additional assistance was required. This came in the form of the Royal Navy, Royal Engineers, local community and government employees. With such a surge of service personnel and HMS Barneath, a specialist service vessel, a wartime atmosphere was re-awakened, with many of the locals setting up feeding, accommodation and entertainment for the rescue teams.
Mary Catherine continues…
The Fishermen’s Mission was too small…all the people that were here…they had to bring the food in from the Morefield Hotel…and they set up tents…at where the caravan park is today… I was working at the shop on Shore Street…there were so many people…all the village was looking after them.
The entire operation took over a month to restore the fleet to full capacity.
The incident has been described as one of the worst peacetime disaster of the 20th Century, 307 people died in England, 19 died in Scotland, 28 died in Belgium, 1,836 died in the Netherlands and a further 361 people died at sea.
Images as part of this story were given to the Ullapool Museum to use as part of the Gale Warning project. Origin is Unknown.