The Life and Times of a Newhaven  Fisherman

From a Yawl to a Trawl



George Main  1906 - 1987

Skipper Lieutenant R.N.R

( Service No WS 2885 )


Born on 15th October 1906 in the village of Newhaven Edinburgh to James Flucker Main (Fisherman) and Sarah Hall Main nee Carnie. He was the youngest in a family of five children, with two brothers, William and James and two sisters Margaret and Rubena. He was educated at Newhaven School and went to sea at the age of 14 with his father and eldest brother William. ( James found work on shore, while Margaret & Rubena became Newhaven fishwives selling the catch from the family boat). The family fishing boat, a yawl with sail and powered by a paraffin fuelled engine was their main income.The yawl would be used to Drift net for herring and line fishing for white fish depending on the season. Newhaven was a busy fishing harbour then with as many as fifty to sixty boats a day landing at the market. The  area fished they fished was between the May Island and Bo' ness in the Firth of Forth.

Yawls In Newhaven circa 1910

© Reproduced with acknowledgement to Captain Walter Lyle Hume Isle of Wight

In his late teens he left the family boat and joined the large local trawler fleet from close by Leith & Granton. It was on these that he worked all over the North Sea and further a field, gaining a vast knowledge of the fishing grounds, nets, methods and the working of the trawl gear. At the age of 22 he attended the Leith Nautical College and gained his Extra Skippers Certificate. It was from this time on that he became a Trawler Skipper just as steam power was making trawling a major industry in Scotland, especially the Firth of Forth, (Granton and Leith), as well as  Aberdeen.

© Reproduced with acknowledgement to Malcolm Main

He  soon established himself as a good fisherman, as did many sons of Newhaven. There was another George Main, also a trawler skipper, in Newhaven, so to distinguish between them he was to become known as “Wee Geordie Main” as he was the youngest and the smaller of the two.

On 17th August 1933 he married Margaret Chalmers from Viewforth in Edinburgh. At that time inter marriage in close knit communities such as fishing villages was common practice, and those that broke the tradition were expected to live out with the village boundaries. In those days the Newhaven boundary line was Starbank Park in the west and George Street Bridge to the east. In keeping with this tradition they bought a house in the Wardie area close to both Granton and Newhaven. The marriage was a happy one and produced two sons Malcolm and Charlie. He used to say in the days before technology, that fishing was 50% knowledge and 50% luck .

Before the outbreak of  World War II, he had become a very well respected fisherman.

In the month of May 1939 he joined the Royal Naval Reserve, and after some basic training he was commissioned and called up to serve as a Skipper on Mine Sweepers and Escort vessels of the Royal Navy in September 1939 at the out break of the war. His first command was HMT "Wolborough",

Wolborough post war as Spurnella H 414

© © Reproduced with acknowledgement to Bosuns Watch website

from 27th December 39 until 10th March 40, when he was transferred to HMT "Grimsby Town".

Grimsby Town GY 81

© © Reproduced with acknowledgement to Bosuns Watch website

In June 1940  he was involved in the evacuation of Dunkirk and working out of Dover . The following letter was found amongst his possessions on his death, and to my knowledge he had never mentioned it to anyone.

Headquarters, London Area,

Royal Army Service Corps,

Kensington Palace Barracks,

Church St., London W8

7th June 1940

Officer i/c ships, Dover Harbour,

( Commodore Lukes-Hughes)

Lord Nelson hotel ,



You may recollect that while Officer i/c loading ships with supplies and water proceeding to and from Dunkirk, I mentioned to you verbally the conduct of the Master and Crew of the Trawler “Grimbsy Town”

While there are many cases which must have come to your notice during last week, I now want to record in writing the circumstances, in order that record may be made of this instance.

After midnight on the night 28th, 29th May, while on the Admiralty Pier, I received instructions to load two barges on the Prince of Wales Pier.

After loading  lorries with supplies and water and proceeding to the Pier, difficulty was experienced in finding these barges. One could not be found and arrived at 4a.m. and the other, (empty and without men) was eventually located on the east side near the Pier Head. My information was that a tug was standing by ready to sail with the barges at 3a.m., but no tug had then arrived. There was no access to the barge from the Quay-side, as the tide was low and there were no steps or stairs visible in the darkness.

A Trawler which turned out to be the “Grimsby Town” was near at hand, but she was silent and her men were below. I hailed the trawler, requested that her Master should be roused and asked him if he could give my very amateur fatigue party of 10, a hand at getting the barge alongside some iron rungs beside his ship, uncovering the hatches, storing sufficient supplies and water for 4000 men, and preparing the barge for its journey to Dunkirk.

The Master Mr. G. Main told me that his men had just turned in, but that he would rouse them. It was then 2.10a.m. In a very short time all hands appeared, the Trawler was edged over, and the barge brought along side, the hatches uncovered, and the stores, under the active help of the Master and his men, stored for the journey.

It is impossible to describe the great assistance rendered by these men. It was given with the greatest alacrity and cheerfulness, and that the barge was loaded and ready for sea by 3.30a.m., was entirely due to the efforts of these seamen, who willingly sacrificed  their short rest to assist and largely perform the work, otherwise to be done by novices.

The example set personally by the Master to his men and to the fatigue party in actual work and supervision was indeed worthy of the high tradition of his service.

I have the honour to be,


Your obedient servant  

Major Patterson R.A.S.C.

He continued to command the “Grimsby Town” until the 26th March 1941, when he was transferred to HMT  "Tekoura".


Tekoura LO 14 at Milford Haven

© Reproduced with acknowledgement to John Stevenson & Milford Trawler website

After a short spell of leave at home he was posted to Scapa Flow, where he was to be for the next two years, serving in the North Atlantic on escort duties and the Russian Convoys. By the middle of 1943 the battle of the north Atlantic was more or less won and he came home for another short leave, ( the first home leave in two years),  before being given command of HMS "Grilse" on the 1st July 1943 and posted to the Mediterranean and North Africa.

Post war Grilse as Julia Brierley  FD 103

Reproduced with the kind permission of Lancashire County Council & Fleetwood Online Archive Of Trawlers ( FLOAT)


 He was now a Skipper Lieutenant RNR. The remainder of the war was spent in the “Med”. North Africa, Sicily and  Italy, finally based at Taranto in Italy when the war in Europe came to an end. The irony was that he was injured in an accident ashore, when the jeep in which he was traveling skidded off the road and he suffered a broken right leg.

He sent home to Scotland where he was a patient at Bangour Hospital, then a military hospital, where his leg had to be re-broken and reset.

In November 1945 he was invalided out of the Royal Navy and received the King’s Badge, awarded to any man or woman who was disabled whilst defending his or her country during the 1939-1945 World War.

Atlantic Star Africa Star War Medal Italy Star France & Germany Star
Sep 1939 -May 1945

Not actual medal

Jun 1940 -  May 1945

Not actual medal

1939 - 1945

Not actual medal

Sep 1943 - May 1945

Not actual medal

Jun 1944 - May 1945

Not actual medal

His campaign medals were again only discovered after his death, not hidden but amongst the other pieces of paper, documents, buttons and cap badges, and still in the small cardboard box in which they had been sent to his home by registered post. The box had been opened. In it were 5 medals still wrapped in their tissue paper, namely :-

 1939-45: France & Germany Star, Atlantic Star, Africa Star, Italy Star, War Medal 1939-45, as well as a clasp for France and Germany.


1946 saw him back at the job he loved, trawling, working out of Granton on the steam trawlers that were now returning after de-commissioning from the navy. Paton was one of the companies that he worked for and he soon established himself among the top Skippers. When the bigger trawlers started to appear he moved to Thomas Scales & Co and became Skipper of the S.T. "Davaar Island", and now sailed out of Leith.

Davaar Island GN 23 as Cape Kanin H 586

© Reproduced with acknowledgement to The Bosuns Watch website

It was around this time, 1948-51, that he achieved the distinction one year of being top Skipper, by landing the most fish to make his trawler the biggest earner in the Granton and Leith fleet.

On October 20th 1952 his wife Margaret died, leaving him with his two sons Malcolm and Charlie, both teenagers. He returned to the trawling after the funeral, this time employed by Joe Croan Ltd, and took command of the S.T. "Strathcoe". In May 1953, when the elder son was called up for National Service he was forced to take the younger son, Charlie, out of school and away to sea with him. He was only 15 years of age.

Geordie Main In black with son Charlie to his left onboard S.T. " Strathcoe " GN 21 circa 1954

© Reproduced with acknowledgement to Malcolm Main

In 1954 Joe Croan and he decided to have a wooden Seine Net boat built, as this new fishing method  was starting to take over from the now dwindling steam trawler fleet. So the 70 foot wooden M.F.V "Sincerity" LH 10 was built and launched in Fraserburgh, at a cost of £11,000, and jointly owned by the two of them.

Geordie in the wheelhouse

© Reproduced with acknowledgement to Malcolm Main

He had come full circle, from his father’s family boat, to his own family boat.

He re-married in March 1956.


Crew of the “Sincerity” Oban 1960

Front:  John Grainger,    Malcolm Main (Charlie’s son)

Back: Charlie Main (Charlie’s son), Winston Grainger, Wullie Greig.



For the next 11 years he fished the North Sea but mainly the West Coast out of Oban. Unfortunately circumstances  started to catch up on him,  between the long hours, the hard life that he had lead, the war and his bad leg which was now causing him more discomfort, he decided to sell the boat in 1964.

With his share of the sale he now invested in a second hand smaller boat under 40 feet in length. It was the M.F.V "Desire" BF 71 from Macduff in Morayshire, 39 feet , wooden, 12 year old and powered by an 88 Kelvin petrol/diesel engine. He and 3 of a crew sailed the “Desire” through the Caledonian Canal, and down the west coast to the Firth of Clyde, where he fished, and now was able to work inside the three mile limit legally, with the smaller boat. The next few years he spent fishing the upper reaches of the Clyde making a meagre living, and finally after several minor heart attacks he sold the boat and retired.

M.F.V Desire BF 71

© Reproduced with acknowledgement to the Shetland Museum & Archives

Although retired and not in the best of health he was still involved in the fishing industry. He worked in Devlin’s net store in Granton and helped at the net factory in Musselburgh supervising the making of the newly developed Larsen Trawl. This work was part time and only when his health allowed him.  Over the next 15 years his health steadily worsened and on 28th June 1987 he died in the Royal Victoria Hospital, Edinburgh, aged 80. His ashes were scattered at the entrance to Newhaven Harbour.

Entrance to Newhaven Harbour at Low Tide

© Reproduced with acknowledgement to AAVH

He was one of a special breed of fishermen that Newhaven and all British fishing ports produced in that generation.


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