Friday Photo; Refugee Week

The above photo from Stornoway Library’s collection is of twenty-nine Estonian refugees en route across the Atlantic in 1948.  The group had initially moved to Sweden in 1944 but had decided that the proximity to Communist Russia was too great, and chose instead to make the journey to Canada.  The group worked in factories to raise the money to purchase ‘Astrid’, a small fishing boat that was to sail the dangerous Northern Route, a path warned against by those who thought the small vessel could not make it at that time of year.  The emigrants had stopped off in Stornoway, and were treated very kindly by locals, who generously provided them with clothing, fresh fish, chocolates and a collection of money to help start them off in their new lives.  The boat set off at 4am on Saturday 17th July, and was met by the Stornoway fishing fleet returning home, each drifter saluting the vessel with their sirens as they sailed passed.

Thankfully, the ‘Astrid’ with its full compliment of twelve men, ten women and seven children made it to Newfoundland in exactly fourteen days.  As promised, Provost Mackenzie received the telegram ‘Astrid arrived St John’s 31rst 7th O.K. Capt. Vilu’.  The Stornoway Gazette carried an article with the good news, which was sure to be have been met with great relief.  Articles about the refugees can be found in Stornoway Library’s collection of Stornoway Gazettes, and is also mentioned in Catherine Mackay’s book It must be Stornoway. 

Thanks go to Jessie and Malcolm of Stornoway Historical Society who identified the photo and gave details on where the refugees had been written about previously.

Next week is Refugee Week, a UK-wide programme of arts, cultural and educational events that celebrates the contribution of refugees to the UK and encourages a better understanding between communities.  An Lanntair in Stornoway will be participating in Refugee Week with the screening of short film Courage: 60 years of the UN Refugee Convention this coming Monday.

About David Powell

Project Manager and Archivist with Tasglann nan Eilean Siar
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