Jimmy Linton, was my boyhood bosom buddy. All of the
Earlsferry boys were friends
but Jems was my special
pal. We were Tom and Huck and then some. To do our
boyhood exploits justice would take a good sized
volume. I'll content myself with a few of our
Jems and I got washed up on
the beach by a big wave. We were always
beachcombing; fishing, either from the jetty rocks behind the
Harbour or from the Fish
Rock at the lighthouse. Again, we might be raking in
the rocks for partans or
lobsters at low tide, you name it, we
were a regular pair of rag-a-muffin sea gypsies.
One time we built a boat
from driftwood planks we'd picked up. More
a slab-sided box than a boat. Held together with
whatever nails we could find. At first it leaked
like a sieve. With plenty of tar, (courtesy of the
village road repair crew) it held together within
reason. Our bailing can was an old baked beans tin can which
was in constant use. Our
pride and joy was about three feet wide and six or seven
feet long. With it we ventured out to sea. For
all the world it looked like
a coffin and so its name became.
day I borrowed my friend Monty's Penta outboard engine
that he said he no longer had any use for and fastened it on to the
Coffin's transom that was made of an upper and a lower
horizontal board. The lower board was nailed to the
bottom and the sides but the upper board was nailed only
to the sides. With the weight of
the engine the Coffin could only hold me. I took off
from the beach at Telfers Wynd and gingerly headed out into Elie
must have had a premonition that all was not well because I tied a length of
rope to the engine and fastened the other end to the
side of the Coffin. I applied more throttle. For a
moment the Coffin shot forward then ---- Kersplash ----
The upper back end board that the engine was fastened to
came completely off the Coffin and board and engine went
straight to the bottom. The sea poured in and I had to
make a mad scramble to the front end of the Coffin
to prevent it from filling with sea water. It took
me ages to get the engine and the back-end board hauled
up, inch by inch, to the surface. While doing so it was
nip and tuck that the Coffin didn't roll over and throw
me out. With the engine and the attached board
dangling below I very carefully paddled back to the
beach. The engine was full of sea water and had to be
completely stripped down to it's parts. I was lucky not
to be drowned. Once again my guardian angel was with me.
A few days later I applied a copious amount of tar then
re-nailed the end board back in place and added a few
extra nails for good measure. It took me about a week to thoroughly dry and clean all the
parts of the engine but after I got it all back together,
it showed no sign that it was any the worse for its
some well meaning souls feared that Jems and I would become a double drowning and
made their concerns known to Wilson the bobby. Wilson agreed and
knocked on our door to have a talk with my parents. Not
exactly a talk. A command.
"That boat, if you can call it that, is completely unsafe. The boys must never go
out in it again. I want you to break it up."
wasn't broken up but my parents laid down the law to me.
Dutifully I listened. For about three weeks all went
well. Then one Saturday Jems
showed up at the Howff.
"What say we get the Coffin out? We can stay inshore,
go out around the Chapel and drop our lines in West Bay."
Before Jems arrived I'd
been getting ready to go fish for the trout that
lived in the Cocklemill burn that flowed under the bridge near the
Kinneuchar railway station.
(Recently I had seen a whopper of a sea trout there that must
have been all of five pounds). I surprised myself by telling Jems,"
No." Guess I still had religion. I left on my own. But
Jems was hot to trot. He
rounded up another pal, Alan
McRoberts. The two of them hauled the Coffin
down to the waters edge and set off. They went
around the point at Chapel Green and on in to West Bay.
Just as they were off the 11th, the Sea hole of the
golf course, and getting their lines over the side, a
noise in the sky made them look up. A smoking airplane
was coming from over the golf course and heading right
towards them. On impact with the water the pilot
escaped but the airman in the turret gunner position
didn't make it out. It transpired that the plane was a
two place Navy Blackburn Roc which was visiting at Crail
Naval Air Station. Jems
and Alan paddled over to the barely conscious pilot.
There was no way a third person could get into the
Coffin as it barely held two boys. To keep the Coffin in
balance Alan went to the front end of the
Coffin to allow Jems to slip
over the back end and into the water. Thank goodness my re-attached transom
board stayed in place. With one hand
Jems held up the injured pilot and with the other
hand he hung
on to the transom board at the back end of the boat. Alan paddled the
shore. By this time half the villagers who had seen the
smoking airplane going down, including Wilson the bobby,
were on the scene at the end of the West Sea road. Wilson with a big smile on his face
waded in to help the trio to shore. Next week the local East Fife Observer
weekly newspaper carried the sensational front page headline;
"Local Boys in Coffin Save Airman."
It turned out that the pilot that Jems and Alan rescued was the son of
Sir George Wilkinson, the
1940 Lord Mayor of London. In gratitude his lordship
gave Jems and Alan 100
pounds each. That was a lot of money in those days.
Also to each he gave a gold pocket watch that was
inscribed on the back with his lordship's words of
gratitude to mark the occasion.
That was the last voyage
of the Coffin.
then I figured out that some days it
just doesn't pay to be good.