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Benghazi – a Fleetwood trawler lost to the waves in a terrifying 1947 storm

“For two hours Charles Bevan, second engineer of the Fleetwood trawler Benghazi, kept his hand in the bunghole of the lifeboat in which 12 of his shipmates made their escape when the ship crashed on a reef in the Firth of Lorne in a bitter north westerly gale.

“The men, most of whom were wearing only singlets and dungaree trousers finally got ashore in a lonely bay on the island of Luing, and huddled together behind a wall for four hours until dawn.

“Bevan became delirious and though his comrades tried to restore heat to his body by wrapping him in their scanty clothing, he died of exposure before dawn.”

This is how the tragedy of the Benghazi unfolded in the Scottish newspapers in April 1947. And as the news reached Fleetwood it was revealed that a second crewman had also been lost in the incident.

The Benghazi with a crew of 16 was managed by Boston Deep Sea Fishing and Ice Co Ltd and skippered by Mr John Anderton. His last radio message revealed that the fishing had been completed and she was returning to port with a big catch. The trawler then put into Oban for stores, leaving about midnight.

Just 10 miles south of Oban in a gale of blinding rain, the Benghazi struck a reef and keeled over. Water was pouring through the wheelhouse windows and a ship’s lifeboat was launched with great difficulty.

Twelve crew scrambled aboard but a bung was missing. Mr Bevan decided there was no time to look for the missing bung, and fearful the vessel was about to sink, he put his hand in the hole to stem the icy water.

It was decided to push off and for two hours they pulled for safety in atrocious conditions. All the time Mr Bevan kept his hands over the open bung hole and was lying in the water at the bottom of the boat.

The crew said later, “I doubt if we would have reached the shore if it had not been for Charlie. He never grumbled after we reached land and we tried to keep him warm with our clothing. But the ordeal had been too much and he died.”

The men had landed less than a mile from a village but were not aware of this until they staggered among the houses some four hours later.

Four men – Skipper Anderton, his brother Tom, the bosun, mate Charles Whiteside and deckhand Frank Duncan stayed aboard the trawler. But in the pitch black with the ship bumping about and being swept by heavy seas Mr Duncan disappeared. He was presumed drowned.

As the trawler lay buffeted on the reef she suddenly slipped and righted herself. An SOS was sent out and Tobermory Lifeboat began a five hour trip to the scene. Now drifting helplessly the Benghazi struck rocks a second time, this time stranding near Fladda Lighthouse. The remaining three men managed to make their way to the lighthouse.

At this time the weather was so bad that the lifeboat could not get close enough to effect a rescue and a breeches buoy operation looked likely.

However, the lifeboat – with considerable difficulty- managed to reach the three men.

Meanwhile, ashore, the crew, many on the point of collapse and battered and bruised, were being cared for by villagers.

High winds blew Benghazi off the rocks and into the sea where she broke up and sank.

Mr Bevan of Ribble Road, Fleetwood, was 34 years old and left a widow and five children. His father had been lost in a trawler accident off Scotland three years earlier. Mr Duncan was last seen aboard the trawler. He lived in Radcliffe Road.

Aboard Benghazi were; Skipper John Anderton, Whinfield Avenue; Mate C F Whiteside, Custom House Lane; Bosun T Anderton, Flag Street; Chief Engineer H Clark, Radcliffe Road; Second Engineer C H Bevan, Ribble Road; Fireman J Swingler of Hull and G S King, Liverpool. Deckhands L Barber, Poulton Road; W Gladwell, Pharos Street; H Hewitt, Radcliffe Road; F Duncan, Radcliffe Road; A Roberts, Gorton; R Rawlinson, Liverpool; H Bailey, Manchester; Cooks A Skeggs, Grimsby and Assistant Cook R Dunn, Liverpool.

Main picture shows (left to right) Charles Whiteside, John Anderton and James Anderton.

First published in Life in Fleetwood issue 43, winter 1996/7.

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