On the 8 of January 1945, the British tramp steamer SS Ashbury foundered and sank at the mouth of Talmine Bay, with the loss of the crew of 42 men. It was the worst loss of a merchant ship during World War Two, in an incident not caused by enemy action.
The Ashbury a three-island cargo ship of 3901 tons built at West Hartlepool in 1924 had returned from the Mediteranian in late 1944,with a load of iron ore. The cargo was discharged at Workington in Cumbria; the Ashbury was then told to go to the Tyne for repairs on a faulty engine condenser.
Captain David Morris set sail from Workington in ballast on the 31 of December 1944 for Lochewe, where the weather deteriorated badly and the ship lost an anchor. The Ashbury then sailed from Lochewe as part of a convoy on the 6th of January 1945, straight into a force nine gale.
The Ashbury soon fell behind the convoy, becoming unmanageable to the crew in the heavy seas. A tug was sent to her assistance as the Ashbury drifted alongside the Norwegian ship ‘Bestik’, off Strathy Point. The Canadian frigate “ Ste Theresa” tried in vain between 2am and 4am to pass a line to the Ashbury, but had to move away as there was a danger of running aground on some rocks. A retired merchant seaman, on coastguard duty in Melness reported a light in the Kyle of Tongue around 3:30am; this light is believed to have been from a liferaft. News soon spread of a possible shipwreck and local people began to scour the beaches for survivors.
No survivors were found, as people discovered that a ship had run aground on Dubh-Seir Mhor (The Black Rocks) of Talmine, at the mouth of the Kyle of Tongue. Twenty-seven bodies were washed ashore and taken to the mortuary in Thurso; where fourteen were buried in war graves in Thurso cemetery, eleven bodies were claimed by the next of kin, the remaining fifteen had no grave, but the sea.
Two crew members from the Ashbury are buried in war graves in Tongue cemetery, one is the ships third engineer J T Eddicott, who had replaced the regular engineer at Lochewe when he was taken to hospital with appendicitis. The other grave in Tongue cemetery is that of an unknown sailor whose body was found on Island Rhoan several weeks later.
A formal investigation into the sinking of the Ashbury concluded that the loss of the ship was due to it hitting the Talmine rocks under stress in heavy weather. The ship was unable to maintain safe course in her light condition with only one anchor and short cable; the report also stressed that had it not been for the war conditions the Ashbury would not have been deemed fit to sail from Lochewe.
SS Ashbury graves in Tongue Churchyard
There is an excellent website about diving on the SS Ashbury http://www.divernet.com/Wrecks/wreck_tours/159412/wreck_tour_66_the_ashbury.html
The full board of enquiry report into the loss of the Ashbury