The Oban Times
Luing recalls tragedy that claimed sailors
THE people of Luing commemorated the 80th anniversary last Wednesday of the tragic loss of 15 Latvian seamen when the SS Helena Faul baums was wrecked on the rocks of Belnahua, a nearby isle, on October 26, 1936.
The Latvian ambassador in London sent red roses and a letter of thanks to Luing Community Council, which laid them at the gravestones and read out the letter to the assembled members of the community on the anniversary on Wednesday afternoon. The Latvian flag was hung on the Cullipool flagpole in sight of Belnahua as a mark of respect.
The Luing History Group has an exhibition at the Atlantic Islands Centre on Luing, which tells the full story of the tragedy and the links between Latvia and Luing which followed. The centre’s café served special Latvian-style dishes, such as the traditional hunter’s stew bigos, all week. The exhibition will continue in future weeks to give everyone who wishes to see it a chance to do so.
Luing History Group secretary Zoë Fleming said: ‘The shipwreck of the SS Helena Faulbaums is an important part of Luing’s history and the tragic loss of these Latvian seamen will always be remembered by the people of Luing.
‘On the night of October 26, 1936, a severe gale was blowing and the ship foundered with just four survivors who swam and scrambled on to Belnahua, from where they were rescued next day by the Islay lifeboat. They were taken to the Crinan Hotel and then to a Glasgow hospital for treatment. The captain was returned to Latvia for burial but the other 14 men were buried together on Luing in the graveyard,’ she said.
‘The search for the seamen, followed by their funeral service and burials on the island, was carried out by the community on Luing, and this marked the start of a long connection with Latvia that continues to this day. In 1938, the first visit by a group from Latvia brought two memorial gravestones and medals of honour were awarded by the Latvian minister in London to several men for their leadership during the rescue and search. Gifts of a communion plate and cup and a wooden lectern were made to Kilchattan Church on Luing,’ she continued.
‘By 1940, Latvia was occupied by the Soviet Union and no visitors from there could tend the graves but the Luing people kept their memories alive. A small group of Latvian exiles arrived in 1983 and this was followed in 1986 for the 50th anniversary by a large group of exiles.
‘This visit was organised by a Luing man and the community welcomed them with several events on the island. A small flotilla of boats went to the site of the wreck where wreaths of flowers were thrown into the sea. Since then more visits between Latvians and locals have been made, including one of the survivors and his grandson revisiting Belnahua to tell his moving story,’ she concluded.