Early in November 1947, the SS Langleecrag sailed from Britain in ballast to collect a cargo of wheat from Canada. Approaching the mouth of the St Lawrence in a storm, Captain Thomas ORFORD made an error of judgment in setting his course and Chief Officer Cyril KING failed to make a correction. At 5.20 on the morning of the 15th, the freighter ran onto the rocks of bleak, uninhabited, Great Sacred Island.
Fileyman William Johnson COLLING (“Bill Bullocky”) was at the wheel and knew instinctively that they had “bounced over rocks” and not, as some of the crew thought, hit an iceberg. Most accounts of the event have stated that a boiler exploded shortly after impact and split the vessel in two but Bill would say many years later that he could not recall that happening. His memories of the death of his “half-cousin” William Cammish COLLING were still clear when aged about eighty, he gave interviews for the two Heritage Lottery supported local history projects, Exploring Filey’s Past and To the Last of the Line.
The boat ‘ad broken in two then, one ‘alf ‘ad gone that way and one ‘alf ‘ad come this way. And my two watch mates who went on watch wi’ me at four o’ clock, were both drowned. I did me best to save my mate, who lived down street ‘ere (points), ‘e was a cousin more or less. Er, ‘is father and my father were cousins, like, so ‘e was sort of ‘alf cousin. Tried to save ‘im, and the air was that so thin, I couldn’t get enough stamina. I threw a rope at ‘im…I threw a lifebelt just missin’ ‘is ‘ands…and, er, he was unconscious with water, cold and, er, I threw a life…er, er, an ‘eavin’ line at ‘im and it wrapped round ‘is ‘and. Well I thought I ‘ad ‘im then, when it got round ‘is ‘and, and I towed ‘im down side of boat where I could, where I thought I could get ‘im. Sea was breakin’ right across deck, I was onny one on deck, rollin’, thing and, er, I gorrim right up t’ side, I gorrim within very near in reach, like that (demonstrates), just, I just couldn’t reach ‘is ‘and by about that (puts fingertips of each hand almost together) leanin’ ovver. And I was so exhausted that I…and there was nowhere I could tie it, to go and fetch somebody to ‘elp me, er, I laid there exhausted and, er, at the finish I ‘ad to lower ‘im back inter t’ sea.
One account says that the bodies of the two men who drowned were not recovered but William Cammish Colling is buried in a small graveyard in Flower’s Cove, about 50 miles from the rusting hulk of Langleecrag.
In St Oswald’s churchyard, he is remembered with one of his brothers.
In loving memory of THOMAS JENKINSON COLLING, died June 22nd, 1949 aged 41. WILLIAM CAMMISH COLLING. Lost off S.S. Langleecrag, Nov. 15th, 1947 aged 27. Buried at Flower’s Cove, Newfoundland. Beloved sons of MATTHEW T. and ANN COLLING. “At Peace.”
“Bill Bullocky” died aged 90 at the Hylands Care Home on 15 December 2015.
The two were second cousins once removed with George COLLING & Ellis (Alice) SIMPSON as common ancestors, and fourth cousins once removed to Robert JENKINSON & Margaret TRUCKLES. Find them on Filey Genealogy & Connections: William Cammish, William Johnson.
William Cammish is on the FamilySearch tree.
There are two posts on Looking at Filey about the wreck – SS Langleecrag and ‘Langleecrag’ Revisited.The links don’t work on the Wayback Machine but searching online for the ship by name will bring rewards. I found the Investigation of the Wreck and an extract from the book Shipwrecks of Newfoundland and Labrador Volume IV by Frank Gargay and Michael McCarthy particularly useful. (Annoying ad warning!) I was particularly moved to find a photograph of the large rock which sheltered the crew through four miserable days and nights of wind, rain, and snow. It is Figure 43 in this PDF. (You may get a warning from your anti-virus; click at your own discretion.)
If you do take the trouble to check out the Looking at Filey posts, please don’t overlook the responses that came in from Newfoundland (and the touching inquiry from the nephew of Francis John ANDERSON, the other seaman who died).