AS we approach Remembrance Day, former Millom merchant sailor Tony Cummings looks back on a struggle for survival as he rowed to shore in a gale after his ship broke in two and sank off the Scottish island of Islay during the Second World War.

In January 1942, Tony Cummings, now 95, of Newton Street, Millom, was an 18-year-old radio officer on the ship Floristan, heavily laden with wartime supplies for Russia – including a deck cargo of several railway locomotives.

Floristan was part of a convoy which left Liverpool and met a terrific Atlantic gale off Northern Ireland.

As night approached, the convoy scattered with orders to seek any shelter and Floristan headed for the safety of the Clyde but only made it as far as Islay.

Mr Cummings said: “Suddenly there was a tremendous crash as we struck a submerged reef.

“The ship was taking a terrific pounding from the strong winds and mountainous seas.”

Lifeboats were lowered but it was a real struggle on the side facing the weather.

Mr Cummings was among those who decided to stay on Floistan, until it suddenly broke in two.

He said: “We that were left had to abandon ship and make for an indistinct shore.

“Our first attempted landfall had to be aborted as it was too rocky and dangerous so we rowed further along the coast, eventually being led in by a beacon light erected by an RAF team from a nearby radio location post.

“We landed in a small cove and had to climb a narrow path up a rather steep headland.”

After a night as guests of the RAF, the sailors moved to huts at Bowmore.

He said: “The island people rallied round, letting us have baths and supplying the needy with some clothing.

“Unfortunately with the gale still raging, the passenger ferries were unable to get to Islay so we spent several days in the cold huts.”

When they reached the Scottish mainland it was a struggle to get home due to very heavy snow

The railway line was blocked with snowdrifts on the Cumbrian coast and he had to get a train from Carlisle to Lancaster and then go north to Millom.

He said: “When we got off at Millom, conditions were atrocious with several feet of snow and no buses running.

“I was given just over a week’s leave and having lost all my gear had to be kitted out again from scratch.”