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The Bella

The Bella was a "Fifie" style fishing boat which was brought to Gourdon from Anstruther in 1912. According to the Database of ME Registered Boats, she was registered at Montrose as ME235 in December 1912. The database records that she was 43' long, displaced 11 tons and her beam was 11' 6". She had no wheelhouse and her yawl-rigged foresail was the main form of propulsion. An auxiliary motor was fitted in 1912 with fixed gears, forward and astern. She fished with lines and drift nets. Her owners were James, Alexander and Edward Ritchie. James Ritchie was her skipper.

She met her end on 26 September 1916. The Montrose Register records that she was blown up by a mine but this is not confirmed by the publication 'WW1 at Sea - British Fishing Vessels Lost to Enemy Action' which records: “BELLA, motor, 11grt, 25 September 1916, off Tod Head, captured by submarine, but not known how sunk, crew made prisoners.”


According to website, The Bella was sunk by Uboat SM U-64, captained by Kapitanleutnant Robert Moraht - The Bella was her first ship hit. Further information on SM U-64 can also be found on Wikipedia.


Skipper James "Auld Brimy" Ritchie

The crew of six comprised:

  • Skipper James Ritchie (Auld Brimy) - father of James Ritchie and grandfather of Neil Ritchie.

  • Jimmy Ritchie (Fishbuyer) son of Skipper James Ritchie and father of Neil Ritchie.

  • James Freeman Ritchie

  • William Ritchie

  • John Cargill (Auld Johnny) - mate of the Bella, father of David Cargill and grandfather of William Cargill (Waldo)

  • David Cargill (Davity) - son of John Cargill. Then aged 16, David died in 1941 in a tragic incident in Gourdon Harbour. The father of William Cargill of Gourdon, William was only four when his father died and is now (2018) 81.

'THE BELLA': a poem by Neil Ritchie

`Twas on a dark September morn the 'Bella' left the shore. 
Sailing through the foggy dawn as oft she'd done before. 
The crew was ready with their lines to earn their daily bread. 
They little thought that autumn day would fill their minds with dread. 

U64 was lurking there beneath the sea so grey 
And saw through its periscope 'Bella' was easy prey.
 It surfaced close to 'Bella' to 'Bella's' crew's surprise 
To see a German submarine rise before their eyes. 

"You are now prisoners of war," the 'Bella's' crew was told 
And so they entered, one by one inside the U Boat's hold. 
As each man was wondering what his fate would be, 
The exploded wreck of the 'Bella' sank beneath the sea. 

Their treatment by the U Boat crew was always very fair. 
Their ration of the U Boat food was always a full share.
 And so they sailed to Germany, to Keil to disembark, 
To labour in a prison camp from early dawn till dark. 

`Twas six long weeks ere wives and mothers learned to their joy 
That each and every one was safe, every man and boy. 
For two long years they laboured there under the Kaiser's thumb 
Till the 1918 Armistice brought them safely home. 

Four Ritchies and the two Cargills glad to be home each day, 
The memory of the prison camp fading slow away. 
Back to the fishing all were called but to their life afloat 
To crew the Fifie,' Happy Return', 'Bella's' replacement boat.

© Neil Ritchie April 2016. Neil Ritchie is the grandson of James  'Auld Brimy' Ritchie, Skipper of the Bella, and the son of James Ritchie, crew member and son of the Skipper .


'THE BELLA': a poem by Dave Ramsay

Fae her hame port of Gourdon the Bella set forth,
Wi a crew of six men they steered a course for north,
It wis 1916 wi’ the country at war,
But the lads of the Bella they didnae get far.

Line fishing it wis the task of the day,
As they shot their lines just off Catterline Bay,
To hunt fine silver fish and tae Gourdon tae sell,
When the hunters became the hunted themselves.

A German U – boat had surfaced and came closing in,
Took command of the Bella and all of her men,
Wi the crew taken prisoner by German marines,
The Bella wis blown in the water intae smithereens.

There was skipper James Ritchie, Auld Brimy by  name,
His son Jimmy Ritchie, a fine lad o his ane,
James Freeman Ritchie, William Ritchie and a’
On that German U – boat they were a’ taen awa.’

Auld Johnny was the tee name for old John Cargill,
And Davity his son wis taen prisoner as well,
In the morning six fishermen were working and free,
And by nightfall they were sailing for far Germany.

Now what wis the sense in such an event,
Fower Ritchies, twa Cargills tae Germany went,
As prisoners of war for two years they stayed,
For fishing that day in Catterline Bay.

When they returned tae their hames and in Gourdon set foot,
I’m sure they oft wondered whit it wis a’ aboot,
For the whole German navy and yon Kaiser fellah,
Scared o’ six Gourdon men and their boat called the Bella.

© Dave Ramsay April 2007. Dedicated to the work of Robert Gove and Roy Souter, in preserving the rich maritime heritage of Gourdon.


On capture the crew were taken to Germany: for an account of their experiences there, see the article by John Mathieson first printed in the Leopard Magazine of August 2012. More details of the capture and the subsequent imprisonment are given in the November 1990 Mearns Leader article by Roy Souter.

A pictorial record of life in the camp is provided  by the set of four postcards shown below. These were sent from Germany and carry the Brandenburg postmark. Thanks are due to Janice Duncan née Fairlie, of Port Glasgow for making these postcards and the above picture of James Ritchie available to us.


When the war ended they were repatriated and all of them returned to the fishing. Auld Brimy acquired a boat from Arbroath called Look & See, which he aptly named the Happy Return (ME 65). The Happy Return was replaced in the early 50s by a boat called Westward (ME 149) which was renamed Happy Return ll. Photos of both boats can be seen below and full details for both are available in the museum's database of ME Registered boats under their original names.



This photograph which was taken in Germany in 1916 was provided by William Cargill of Gourdon, son of David Cargill. Another copy of the same photo was contributed by Neil Ritchie. Left to right: David Cargill; John Cargill; James Ritchie Jr.; Skipper Jame Ritchie; James Freeman Ritchie; William Ritchie.


The Happy Return, formerly Look & See (ME 65) - photograph courtesy of Robert Ritchie


The Happy Return II, formerly Westward (ME 149) - photograph courtesy of Robert Ritchie

A number of people have willingly cooperated in contributing the information and photographs which make up this page. Celia Craig undertook the onerous task of collecting the contributions and particular thanks are due to Neil Ritchie, William Ritchie, Robert Ritchie, Alan Donaldson and Vally Craig.

Celia Craig has pointed out that certain points of detail given in the Leopard article by John Mathieson differ from the account given here. We believe our version to be correct.


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