Friday, 16 September 2011

The Emirau Incident - 2

The sinking of the Rangitane
Stornoway Gazette - 9 May 1941

Every member of the community rejoiced with Mrs Donald Mackay, Lighthouse Road, Portvoller, on receipt of the news that her son, Donald, was among the survivors landed in Australia from a British ship sunk by German raiders. Donald was an AB on the Rangitane when she was trapped by three German raiders. There was one to each side and one in front so thefate of the Rangitane was sealed. They shelled her from both sides and in a short time she was burning in three places.

There were some casualties among the crew and passengers, some of them fatal, but Donald was fortunate enough to escape uninjured. Along with others, he was picked up by one of the raiders, and on board were some of the crews of several other vessels, all victims of this nefarious form of warfare.

Among them were two other Lewismen, D. Macleod, Ranish, Lochs (Christchurch, New Zealand); and D. Macdonald, Skigersta, Ness (Wellington, New Zealand). They were on the raider for 12 days, suffering terrible hardships and privations. Donald characteristically makes light of his experience and dismisses it with "It was an adventure which I shouldn't care to repeat".

Because of overcrowding, the raider put them ashore on Emirau Island in the South Pacific. On the island, beside the native population, were two Australians, Mr and Mrs Cook. They had two small boats, and when they saw the raider appear, they hauled one up a creek and hid it among some trees. The wisdom of this precaution was shown, for when the Germans landed, they destroyed the other boat and, having put ashore in all 300 men, women and children, with scanty provisions, left them to their fate. When the Germans were safely away, Mr Cook, offered the remaining boat, with the information that the nearest island was 75 miles away and had a wireless station. The mate gratefully accepted and called for volunteers. Donald was among the first, taking charge of the helm with such enthusiasm that the mate cautioned "Don't upset her, Mac". Donald replied "No fear, sir, she can stand it all". The mate's smiling remark was "You ought to know what a small boat can stand. You comefrom the Hebrides".

His confidence was justified and they got safely to their destination and their message was picked up by a boat which took them off and landed them in Townsville, Northern Queensland, Australia. From there, they were sent by train to Sydney. The journey was many hundred miles, but at every station were enthusiastic crowds to greet tham and shower on them gifts of refreshments and cigarettes. When they got to Sydney, they were boarded at the ship's company's expense at an hotel and provided with a very much needed outfit. Donald's friends will not be surprised to hear that the Sydney outfitter had nothing in stock to fit him. Meantime he has taken employment on the Australian coast and we heartily wish him luck.

On 25 February 1916, his father, who was in the RNR when the World War broke out, lost his life when his ship, the Genista, was torpedoed off Ireland. He left four sons, Dugald, the eldest, is in the Metropolitan Force in Toronto, Canada; Roderick is a coxswain in the RNR; Angusis second in command of one of HM minesweeping trawlers; Donald, the youngest is in the Merchant Service. They carry on their father's tradition, preserving the liberties and privileges for which he fought and died, and nobly upholding the honour of Britain and her empire.

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