Ship disaster survivor ‘had courage and faith’

George Bouma made a presentation of a model of the MV Princess Victoria in a bottle and presented it to one of the survivors of the 1953 tragedy, William McAllister, at the Memorial Service in Larne. INLT 05-351-PR
George Bouma made a presentation of a model of the MV Princess Victoria in a bottle and presented it to one of the survivors of the 1953 tragedy, William McAllister, at the Memorial Service in Larne. INLT 05-351-PR

The youngest survivor of the 1953 Princess Victoria shipping disaster was praised for his courage and strength of character at his funeral yesterday.

Larne man William (Billy) McAllister was aged just 17 when disaster struck the Princess Victoria ferry in the waters off Co Down as it made its way to Larne from Stranraer.

It was one of the worst shipping disasters in British coastal waters with the loss of 133 lives. Only 44 survived. All women and children on board lost their lives.

The vessel, one of the first roll-on roll-off ferries, was stricken by a terrible storm and went down close to the Copeland Islands off the coast of Co Down.

Despite having lived through such an awful tragedy, Mr McAllister went on to spend a lifetime at sea, making the same journey working on ferries between Larne and Stranraer until his retirement.

He was laid to rest after his funeral at St MacNissi’s Church in Agnew Street, Larne yesterday morning.

Father Aiden Kerr, speaking after the funeral, said Mr McAllister’s courage and faith had shone through in the way he spent his life at sea even after the disaster.

Fr Kerr said: “Billy McAllister was the youngest of the survivors. He was a cabin-boy of just 17.

“The interesting thing I found was that even after the tragedy, he went back to sea. I took this as a sign of the strength of his character and the courage of the man.

“In Christian terms this is a sign of Christian faith and hope. He went back to sea and spent his whole life at sea – in fact he spent his whole life on those ferries, on the same stretch of water, until he retired.”

He added: “I think that took a lot of courage and a great deal of faith, and a sign of the hope that springs from Christian faith. Every day you are putting your hands in the Lord and picking up the pieces of your life again.”

The disaster had a huge impact on the Larne community, with 27 of the victims from the town, and every year a poignant service is held close to Larne harbour to mark the tragedy.

Mr McAllister, who went on to have six children, spoke to the Larne Times a few years ago at the anniversary service, recalling his memories of the fateful journey.

“The memories of that day are as fresh in my mind today as they were in the days after the sinking,” he said. “These commemoration services are very poignant for me, but they are important as they help to keep alive the memory of those who died that day.”