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Community / Memories of Aith lifeboat hero Andy Smith after death aged 92

Andy Smith who died aged 92. Photo: private

TRIBUTES have been paid to former Aith lifeboat crew member, fisherman, whaler, crofter, council road man and pilot boat crew member Andy Smith who died last Friday aged 92.

During his long and varied life, Andy a’ Papil was in the crowd that had gathered outside Westminster Abbey for the Queen and Prince Philip’s wedding in November 1947, and he attended a number of sporting events during the 1948 London Olympics while stationed in London for his national service.

Like many other Shetland men of his age he went to the whaling in South Georgia for a number of years until the early 60s, which took him as far as the Ross Ice Shelf, the most southerly open water in the world.

After marrying Lara Tait in 1952 the young couple set up house with relations at Eidsview, in Aith. After returning from the whaling he became a volunteer member of the Aith lifeboat for 20 years until the family moved to Burra where they had built a new house on the family croft.

During his time on the lifeboat Andy was directly involved in saving no less that 31 lives at sea, including all 12 crew members of the Aberdeen-registered trawler Juniper which had grounded near Papa Stour and was jammed against rocks in the early hours of 19 February 1967.

Andy and all his fellow volunteer crew members were all awarded the RNLI’s Thanks of the Institution award, inscribed on vellum, for their “courage, skill and determination”.

In a social media post the current Aith lifeboat crew said it wanted to “express our condolences to Andy’s family, and offer our thanks and respect for his many years of service”.

Remembering what role the lifeboat played in the Smith household, his son John remembers: “One of my early memories was the flurry of activity in the house when the thump of a maroon was heard, usually in bad weather and often at night.

“Da [his father Andy] would get his oilskins on and get ready to head down to the pier in his van once the coxswain John Robert Nicolson had arrived from Skarvataing on his pushbike.”

The Aith lifeboat crew in 1967. Back row (left to right): John Robert Nicolson (Coxswain), Frank Johnston (Mechanic), Kenny Henry (Crew), Michael Jamieson (Crew), Andy Smith (Bowman). Front row (left to right): Bill Anderson (Crew), Wilbert Clark (Assistant Mechanic) - Photo: Dennis Coutts
The Aith lifeboat crew in 1967. Back row (left to right): John Robert Nicolson (Coxswain), Frank Johnston (Mechanic), Kenny Henry (Crew), Michael Jamieson (Crew), Andy Smith (Bowman). Front row (left to right): Bill Anderson (Crew), Wilbert Clark (Assistant Mechanic) – Photo: Dennis Coutts

Referring to the Juniper rescue he added: “As usual he was reluctant to say much about the dangers involved, but from what I can piece together he was the bowman.

“Part of that role was to ‘surge’ one of the ropes they used to keep contact, as the lifeboat rose and fell, maybe as much as 18 feet, on the waves washing over both vessels.

“This had to be done when they were struggling to repeatedly get close enough alongside for each of the 12 trawler crew to make their individual leap to safety. The lifeboat was substantially damaged in the rescue, but all the Juniper’s crew were saved.”

A church elder at Aith and Burra for many decades, Andy was always strong in his faith with a practical commitment to steadfast and good humoured endurance and fortitude.

John remembers: “Da had experienced hardship, struggle and loss at times, however his faith and his experience of family support and the lessons of teamwork moulded a strong and resilient character.

“One which was founded in the belief that hard work, honesty and straight forward application was the way to live. He could not really understand why anyone wouldn’t just get on and do the things that needed to be done without making a carry on.

“Da was very much loved by all of us and while we are sad at this moment, we are comforted by memories of his long, rich and active life and the values he lived by, day in day out, across many happy years.”

His funeral was held on Friday in the Bridge End kirk.

The family has set up a fundraising page in aid of the RNLI and kindly asks people to donate via this link.