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Flashback to wartime as lard washes up on beach

SEVERAL unusual mementos of the German bombers that patrolled over the North Sea during the Second World War have been swept ashore by recent stormy weather.

SHIFTED CARGO: Large blocks of lard have washed up on an Aberdeenshire beach after being dislodged from the hold of a Second World War shipwreck.
SHIFTED CARGO: Large blocks of lard have washed up on an Aberdeenshire beach after being dislodged from the hold of a Second World War shipwreck.

A number of white blocks of animal fat that have appeared on the beach at St Cyrus in Aberdeenshire are cargo dislodged from a sunken wreck of a Norwegian merchant ship attacked by the Luftwaffe almost 70 years ago.

The appearance of the lard, originally destined to be used in lipsticks and soap, has triggered memories of earlier deposits of the fat at the beach.

The wreck of the Taurus ship, known locally as the Rosebury, is thought to lie further up the coast near Johnshaven, with bad weather setting free its contents over the years.

Angus McHardy, a local resident and retired fisherman, remembers the lard coming ashore in the 1940s.

He said: "I'd never seen anything like it. There was quite a lot washed up at St Cyrus and beyond – not quite to Montrose.

"Some barrels were complete and others were just lumps. People collected it. My grandma boiled it up to get the sand out. It was great because we couldn't get fat during the war.

"I used to see the convoys for the merchant ships on my way home from school. The Germans attacked the convoys at the same time every night.

"After a storm in the late 1960s or early 1970s, the lard came up onshore again. The seagulls thought it was a bonanza."

Fishermen in the area are also said to have searched waters close to the wreck for their catch, because fish that had fed off the fat –once stored in barrels that have since rotted away – had grown well beyond normal size. Therese Alampo, manager of St Cyrus, a national nature reserve run by Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH), explained that the depth of the swell during the storm over the holiday period must have further broken apart the shipwreck allowing more lard to escape.

"The lard was covered in the largest barnacles I've ever seen," she said.

"Animals, including my dog, have certainly enjoyed the lard, and it still looks and smells good enough to have a fry-up with."

SNH staff remember lard coming ashore in the early 1980s as well. At that time, there was a pair of barn owls nesting on a rocky ledge near the reserve office. A dead barn owl was later found on the beach, plastered with lard.

Meanwhile, further down the coast at the Tentsmuir reserve near St Andrews, erosion from the storms has exposed a narrow-gauge railway line that was used during the war.

Sections of corrugated iron that were used as moulds to create coastal sea defences were also uncovered.

The storms also meant some unusual natural arrivals at Tentsmuir's beaches, including a dead octopus, sea anemones and some Deadman Finger Sponge, or Neoesperiopsis digitata, which can grow to 2ft in height on the seabed.

Tom Cunningham, Tentsmuir's reserve manager explained: "Not only is Tentsmuir's wildlife terrific, but its involvement in the Second World War is also fascinating.

"The landscape here is constantly shifting, pushing out the northern coastline by up to five metres a year in some spots, while the sea is eroding the dune edge at the south end of the reserve.

"So, every now and then, we see amazing remnants from the Second World War emerging from the sands. All the shells and creatures from the storms were wonderful to see as well – a great reminder of all that we can't see below the waves."

At Tentsmuir, a line of concrete anti-tank blocks and pillboxes was installed along the shore in 1941. The defences were dual-purpose: to counter invasion but also to protect the nearby Leuchars RAF airfield, from where crews were engaged in anti-shipping and mine-laying operations. Anti-glider posts were also installed on the shore, but many are now buried.

The area is listed as a scheduled monument, called Tentsmuir Coastal Defences, because of its historical importance.

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