Castaways of the SS Beemsterdijk

When the 42 man crew of the Dutch owned SS Beemsterdijk departed Greenock for Cardiff in January 1941 none of them could have known that all but three would ever see their families again.  Those three fortunate men that survived had the keen eyes of the men in the Brownstown LOP and the prompt action of the crew of the Dunmore East Lifeboat to thank for their salvation.
The SS Beemsterdijk departed the Clyde for bunkers in Cardiff in January 1941. It was  during WWII and ships faced a threat of submarine attack or sea mines. The cargo ship had an international crew aboard and was sailing with a new degaussing system to offset the threat of magnetic mines. However the system seems to have impeded the ships compass and it is thought that the ship lost its way.  On Sunday January 26th the ship struck a mine and was abandoned, all the crew getting safely away.  An SOS had been sent and a reply received confirming a rescue was imminent.  After an hour a party went back aboard the ship as she was staying upright in the water.  Following and examination all the crew returned and the lifeboats were hauled aboard. They waited on deck all Sunday and through the night with eyes on the horizon for the rescue that never came.  By the morning of Monday the ship had sunk very deeply and the captain decided to abandon ship again. The lifeboats were just away when the ship sunk and because of the suction all hands were thrown into the water. 
Photo credit wwwopac maritime digital
The crew were swimming around trying to grasp what they could to help stay afloat. Some overturned lifeboats were righted and men managed to climb aboard, the four castaways of our story managed to reach a life raft.  In time the shipwrecked men drifted apart and four men found themselves alone in the Atlantic on an open raft.  Although it had holds for food and water, these were empty.  The men were; 4th Engineer Van t’Hoff, Steward Peter Schrage, Bosun’s boy Stanley Gillard and a galley boy named Lennerts.  Alone they drifted and although they came within sight of land at times they had no way of signalling.  At one point on Tuesday 28th they were washed off and had to swim back to their raft.  On the Wednesday Lennerts became overcome and disappeared off the raft overnight.  On Thursday 30th they were spotted by the look out post on Brownstown head (LOP 17) and the alarm was raised. (1)
The Dunmore Lifeboat received the call to launch at 10.20am and were launched and heading west in very rough conditions within ten minutes. The raft was spotted heading towards the rocks on Newtown head but in challenging conditions the lifeboat managed to get safely alongside.  The bowman (Muck Murphy) lept aboard the raft and the weakened and distressed sailors were helped aboard the Annie Blanch Smith.(2)

The raft was left to drift and the lifeboat headed back east towards Dunmore East where a reception committee was awaiting. Red cross volunteers and an ambulance were on hand under the direction of the chair of the local branch Arthur Wescott Pitt. Once ashore the men were placed onto stretchers and removed to a local hotel owned by Mr McCarthy* where they received all the attention they required. Meanwhile the raft the men were on was smashed to pieces on the rocks under the Metal Man. Although the Tramore Coast Watching service had turned out in full readiness, one wonders if in the men’s weakened state, they would have survived(3)
Annie Blanche Smith. At Waterford 4th April 1953. Robert Shorthall Collection.
With thanks to Andy Kelly
There were two others who deserve a mention on the fateful morning.  David Tobin, Brownstown and John Power, Coxtown also spotted the men on the raft.  They attempted to row out to rescue them but in the heavy seas an oar was broke and both men had a difficult enough job to regain the safety of the shore.(4)
Of the men’s fate thereafter I could find no more.  They were finally decided to be well enough to travel in late February, being removed to the Waterford County & City Infirmary for follow up treatment.(5) The Waterford Standard of the following day has an interview with both Van t’Hoff and Stanley Gillard in the Sailors Home in Henrietta St, where they are under the care of Mr and Mrs Marno.  Both men are fulsome in their praise for their rescuers and the kindness shown to them in Dunmore and Waterford.  Young Gillard is keen to get back to sea.(6)  Perhaps the older Van t’Hoff is more careful of what he wishes for!
(1) Waterford Standard.  Saturday Feb 8th 1941. p 1  An article featuring an interview with Arthur Wescott Pitt who gave a description of the incident based on talking to the three survivors.
(2) Jeff Morris. The Story of the Dunmore East Lifeboats. 2003
(3) Cork Examiner. Friday January 31st 1941. p 4
(4) Waterford Standard . February 1st 1941. p 1
(5) Munster Express. Friday February 21st 1941. p 5
(6) Waterford Standard. Saturday February 22nd 1941. p 3
* McCarthys was later known as the Ocean and is now known as the Three Sisters.  Thanks to David Carroll for the information.

Following publication Peter O’Connor sent on the following link which gives much extra detail of the events:

I was also lucky to receive an email for a dutch gentleman who had researched the above piece via Brendan Dunne of Dunmore.  John van Kuijk replied with the following information that he had gleamed on the survivors:

“Hallo Andrew,

Back in 1941 , after a long recovery period Willem van’t Hoff and Peter Schrage both served on other ships and survived the war.

Willem van ‘t Hoff received further leave and treatment at Cape town SA. During the rest of the war he served on ten ships or more. I contacted his daughter. She told me that after the war, as an engineer, he had his career in the Holland America Line serving on various ships. In 1966 he ended his career being the main engineer on board the ss Rotterdam, which now proudly is national heritage as a floating hotel / museum / event in Rotterdam Harbour.  Ironically he died shortly after retirement and before sailing, having been presented with a free trip for both him and his wife to New York. In stead his wife and daughter could make this trip.

After recovery Peter Schrage also served on many ships, being torpedoed in 1944 while on board the ss Bodegraven near West Africa. He survived again! After the war he got married, had his family and sailed the waters of Amsterdam Harbour. So I was told by his closest daughter.  In 1953 he went to the rescue of the victims when the dikes in the province of Zeeland gave way to enormous flooding.

Stanley William Gillard, at the time only 17 years old, had soon recovered from his injuries and was, back in England, able to identify the bodies of some crew being washed ashore near St. Davids’s in Wales. I contacted one of his sons, who was only two years old when his father died in 1954. From hearsay he gathered his father also served on more ships. He then was shipwrecked and for 6 days adrift at sea and suffered frostbite. Until just before his death in 1954 Stanley was working for a die casting firm X raying the castings for defects. His ambition was to run his own fishing boat out of one of the channel ports and set his own wet fish business up.

That’s the story!”

Many thanks to John for sharing this with us.

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Metal Man – Waterford Harbour Countdown system

Following the Seahorse tragedy in Tramore bay in January 1816 an initiative was started to create a warning system about the dangers of confusing Tramore Bay with the entrance to Waterford Harbour(1).

The system commenced with the placing of three towers on the western entrance to Tramore at Great Newtown Head. Standing on the middle tower is what is known as the Metal Man, a Jack Tar who points away to sea towards the Hook, and who on wild nights was said to cry “Keep out, keep out, good ships from me, for I am the rock of misery.” On the eastern headland lie two towers, known as the Brownstown pillars. They have no dramatic figures, but I don’t think it diminishes them in any way. And then further to the east marking the entrance to Waterford harbour lies the Hook tower, a lighthouse which as stood for hundreds of years and a very obvious beacon to seafarers.

Although Hook as I said is ancient, the other towers were constructed by Lloyds of London, the maritime insurance company, and they were responsible for it for over a hundred years.(2) It was subsequently taken over by the Irish Lights, who I presume are still the owners.
I remember as a child visiting the Metal man on a Sunday afternoon drive with my uncle, pat O’Leary. Pat and my aunt Margaret had five children and he drove a VW Beetle, so how he managed to fit others into the car I can’t even imagine now. But fit me he did, and probably my brother Robert too and we walked out and laughed as the girls hopped around the metal man – apparently a certainty for getting a husband.
It was years later when I fished off the bay when I first heard of the count down system. It was the late winter early spring of 1984 and I was aboard the MV Reaper with Jim ‘dips’ Doherty and Denis Doherty gillnetting. Chats were always had as we worked on deck clearing fish out of the nets and cursing every time it came to clearing dog fish that had curled themselves into a súgan.
One day they started to tell me about the towers and their purpose, claiming that it was all thanks to a fisherman from Cheekpoint. Apparently in the mid 18th C a hydrographic surveyor was aboard a Dunmore fishing boat known as the Nymph which was operating out of Passage East and with a harbour based crew. They were taking coastal markings and mapping fishing grounds. The Hydrographer was an English man named William Doyle, and he is credited with discovering the Nymph bank. On one of the trips out the weather became dirty and Doyle indicated that they should return to shore. But the direction he pointed in was Tramore bay, and he was corrected on this and told that it was a sure fire way of being wrecked in dirty weather. The crewmen had their own markings for getting back to Passage East and this, apparently, was what Doyle referred to as the Waterford Harbour Countdown system; a three, two one of headlands with a safe haven at the end.
William Doyles chart of the harbour first published in 1738
Follow this link for a chart which you can magnify
Now I’ve never read about the system, but according to my fishing companions that day when Lloyds came to mark headlands it was the written words of William Doyle that was used. If anyone could point me in the direction of same I would appreciate it.

(1) The Seahorse was driven by bad weather into Tramore, she did not mistake it as the entrance. See for example Julian Waltons book On This Day Vol II
(2) According to Ivan Fitzgerald, on the Waterford History Group facebook page, the actual construction was carried out by the Ballast Board