Aiken, Harry

Aiken, Harry

Deck Hand

Miss Betty, Pilot Launch

Drowned in the Bangor Bay Disaster on Saturday 8 May 1943 (aged 21)


Donaghadee Parish Church of Ireland Graveyard, Donaghadee, Co. Down


Donaghadee and District War Memorial (Bangor Bay 1943 Plaque)


Three men from Donaghadee along with one man from Bangor were drowned on Saturday 8 May 1943 in what came to be known locally as the ‘Bangor Bay Disaster’.  There were no survivors.  The four men died when the Pilot Launch Miss Betty capsized and sank while returning to port after responding to a call from a ship entering Belfast Lough.  The four men who died worked on the pilot boats that were based in Bangor.  These pilot boats were in constant service, not only for merchant shipping coming into Belfast, but also for many of the naval vessels using Belfast Lough.  At the outbreak of war Miss Betty was requisitioned by the Admiralty from Jim Davidson, Donaghadee.

The three Donaghadee men who died were Harry Aiken, William George Nelson and William White.  The Bangor man who died was William Anderson.  Aboard Miss Betty on the day they died, William White was the pilot and William George Nelson was the coxswain.  William Anderson was the engineer and Harry Aiken was the deck hand.  Harry Aiken had been doing this type of work for 2½ years.

Harry Aiken was a single man who lived with his widowed mother Agnes at 4 Bow Street, Donaghadee.  Harry was her youngest son.  Harry’s uncle, Private Maxwell Aiken, who had served with the Border Regiment, died on active service on 23 April 1918 during the First World War.  Private Maxwell Aiken is commemorated on Page 85 in the Book of Honour Remembering Their Sacrifice in the Great War – Ards compiled by Barry Niblock.

Harry Aiken was born in Silloth, Cumberland (now part of Cumbria), his birth was registered in the fourth quarter of 1921 in Wigton and he was baptised in Carlisle Cathedral.  He was a son of Henry and Agnes Aiken (nee McCaw) who were married on 12 February 1915 in Donaghadee Parish Church of Ireland Church.  Henry Aiken was born on 21 July 1891 in Donaghadee and he worked as a painter.  Agnes McCaw was born on 7 May 1891 and she was a daughter of Joseph McCaw of Ballymacruise, Carrowdore.  After their marriage, Henry and Agnes Aiken moved to Silloth where Henry worked as a gasworks stoker.  Henry and Agnes Aiken had six children all of whom were born in Cumberland:

Agnes (Peggy, born 1916)

Maxwell Lens (born 7 June 1917)

Joseph (Joe, born 13 November 1919)

Harry (born 1921)

Madeline H (born 1923)

Sheila M (born 1928, died 1930)

During the First World War Henry Aiken served in the Army and he was admitted to Whitby Sanatorium with pneumonia after time spent in the Yorkshire Fells on trench training operations.  After Henry died of tuberculosis on 19 June 1931, Agnes and her five surviving children moved to 4 Bow Street, Donaghadee.

The Pilot Launch Miss Betty was around 40 feet long and the disaster was witnessed by Bangor Harbour Master John H. Corry and Customs Officer G.A. Coppard.  Miss Betty was owned by the Admiralty but crewed by civilians under naval direction and she left Bangor in moderate weather conditions at 8.55 am on 8 May 1943.  During the trip the weather deteriorated and, on the way back to Bangor, the crew had to contend with a strong north-easterly gale and a heavy breaking sea.  At 11.40 am, when they were only about 60 to 70 yards from the safety of Bangor harbour, the disaster happened.  The boat successfully negotiated several strong waves before being overwhelmed by a broadside hit on the port side.  Miss Betty capsized, turned over in the water and remained upside down.

Harry Aiken’s body was washed ashore at Bangor about 7.00 pm on the day of the disaster and his funeral service was held in Donaghadee Parish Church of Ireland Church the following Tuesday.  Naval ratings acted as pall bearers and senior naval officers were in attendance.  Harry Aiken was 21 years old when he died, and he was buried in Donaghadee Parish Church of Ireland Graveyard.  At the inquest on Harry Aiken, which was held in Bangor before the Coroner, Dr. Wallace, District Inspector Gerald Cullen appeared for the police, Mr M. Harper appeared for the Admiralty and Mr D.H. Smyth appeared for the next-of-kin.  Lieutenant Commander Hans Dane stated that in his capacity as Admiralty Berthing Officer he was in charge of civilian Admiralty pilots and a number of civilians as crew for the Pilot Launch Miss Betty.  It was by orders from his office that Miss Betty left the pier at 8.55 am in response to the call for a pilot ship and he confirmed that she was seaworthy.  The Coroner’s verdict was that Harry Aiken’s death was caused by asphyxia due to accidental drowning.

Along with Coxswain William George Nelson and Pilot William White, Deck Hand Harry Aiken is commemorated on a separate plaque on Donaghadee and District War Memorial.  Harry’s mother Agnes died on 29 October 1985 (aged 94) and she was buried in the same grave as her son.