Today marks the 70th anniversary of Northern Ireland’s largest peacetime maritime disaster – the sinking of MV Princess Victoria.
The Princess Victoria was one of the earliest roll-on-roll-off ferries commissioned in the British Isles and went into service in 1947. Sadly, the ship was caught in a storm and heavy seas when travelling from Stranraer, Scotland to Larne, Northern Ireland, on 31 January 1953. Despite valiant attempts to close and repair doors that had been breached by several waves, the vessel sank. The continued bad weather hampered rescue efforts by both the Coastguard and the Royal Air Force. Of those on board, 135 passengers and crew would perish in the disaster. No women or children would survive the tragedy.
Two of those who went down with the ship were prominent Unionist politicians and Orangemen, John Maynard Sinclair, Deputy Prime Minister of Northern Ireland, and Sir Walter Dorling Smiles, MP for North Down.
Major John Maynard Sinclair had served as a Captain with the Royal Irish Rifles during the Great War and did not become a member of the Stormont Parliament until 1938. In 1940 he was excused military service when appointed to the Ministry of Finance by the new Prime Minister, JM Andrews, becoming Minister of Finance in 1943. He was known as a very progressive unionist politician and was involved in a variety of community organisations, including the Orange Institution.
Sir Walter Dorling Smiles, DSO, was a Lieutenant Commander during the Great War. He had been in the Navy and was transferred to the Royal Naval Armoured Car Division (RNACD) in 1915 due to the lack of available naval aircraft. During the course of his service with the RNACD, principally in Russia and Romania, he would be Mentioned in Despatches, and be awarded the DSO (1916) and with bar (1917). He, and other Orangemen in the ranks, would be involved in several engagements. Smiles was a member of LOL No. 781.
Both Sinclair and Smiles are remembered on the banner of Whitewell Temperance LOL No.533. This banner is currently on display in the Museum of Orange Heritage, Belfast.