World War One had just broken out. A hospital ship called the Rohilla was heading to Dunkirk, France to rescue wounded British soldiers. On board were 229 people, primarily medical staff.
These included 15 men who were all members of the St John’s Ambulance Brigade group in Barnoldswick, Lancashire, and five nurses. One of these nurses was called Mary Kezia Roberts. Two years beforehand, Mary had been rescued after another boat she had worked on as a stewardess – the Titanic - had sunk.
Thanks to the wartime black-out, no coastal lights were visible and the Rohilla was navigating blind. On Thursday, October 29, in storm force conditions, the vessel veered miles off course and hit rocks just off Saltwick Nab, about a mile south of Whitby.
The boat was pounded by mountainous seas and broke in two. Many on the aft part were immediately washed away and drowned.
Although it was only 600 metres from shore, the atrocious conditions were to make rescuing survivors from the wreck almost impossible. The rescue efforts were to take over 50 hours and involve six RNLI lifeboats from Whitby, Upgang, Scarborough, Teesmouth and Tynemouth – most of them rowing boats - and their courageous crews, along with many people from the local community who rushed to the coast to help.
The Empire Gallantry Medal would later be awarded to Major Burton of the Tynemouth lifeboat for his role in the rescue. Three Gold medals and four Silver medals were awarded by the RNLI to members of their crews for their gallantry – the highest awards the RNLI can bestow.
A young scout from Middlesborough called Arthur Shepherd become the first scout to receive the Cornwell Badge of courage for his bravery in assisting the rescue efforts on shore. It was presented to him by Lord Baden-Powell. Captain Neilson of the Rohilla was to be awarded the Bronze Medal of the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, for his efforts in the rescue of the ship's cat. And the lives of 146 people would be saved.
As soon as the Rohilla was wrecked, the lifeboat crew at Whitby was alerted, but due to the atrocious conditions, Whitby's lifeboat could not be launched from the harbour, so it was carried by hand over a seawall and across rocks to be launched from the beach nearest the Rohilla. She was damaged during the journey but eventually launched at 8am, despite the huge surf pounding the beach.
The five nurses – including lucky (or unlucky) Mary Roberts – were rescued, along with 12 men. The lifeboat launched again and rescued another 18 men, but was so badly damaged in the process she couldn’t be launched again.
Next came the Upgang lifeboat, which was pulled by horses on a carriage through Whitby then across fields to the top of the cliffs. Horses and over 100 willing helpers were then used to lower the boat down the cliff face using ropes. But the seas were too dangerous for the boat to launch, so the crew remained on standby.
Scarborough lifeboat was being towed towards Whitby by a steam trawler – the conditions were such that rowing to the Rohilla was impossible, even for the hardened lifeboat crew. On arrival, the conditions were too rough for them to approach the wreck so they remained out at sea for the night, with huge waves repeatedly filling their boat. After 18 hours of this, they were forced to give up and return home. The Teesmouth lifeboat attempted to launch but was swamped by the heavy seas and sprang a leak. She had to be towed back into harbour.
On the morning of Saturday October 31, more rescue attempts were made. One Whitby lifeboat was unable to get close to the wreck, another, the Upganag boa, battled for more than an hour to get close to the Rohilla, and at one point got to within 50 yards, but the rowers were eventually beaten back.
Those trapped on the wreck were becoming increasingly desperate. Some attempted to swim for the shore – many onlookers risked their own lives rushing into the heavy surf to try to help them.
With all attempts by rowing lifeboats to reach the survivors having failed, the motor lifeboat at Tynemouth, the Henry Vernon, was summoned by telegram. Local legend has it that the new 40ft self-righter, which was built in 1911, was distrusted by some of the Tynemouth lifeboatmen, used to rowing the traditional ‘pulling lifeboat’. It's said that in order to find crew to man it, Cosxwain Robert Smith, had to call in untested volunteers from the town.
The Henry Vernon made the treacherous 44-mile journey to Whitby in total darkness, reaching Whitby at 1am on Sunday November 1. Several gallons of oil were loaded onto the boat and it made its way to the wreck, where the oil was discharged onto the water where it had the remarkable effect of calming the white water.
Coxswain Smith rapidly brought his lifeboat alongside the wreck and the remaining fifty survivors – who had survived over two days on the wreck without food or drink - were taken onboard. The last to leave the Rohilla was the Captain, David L Neilson, who carried the ship’s cat with him.
The effect of the oil didn’t last long and enormous waves struck the lifeboat as she headed back to the harbour but she made it – and the boat, her crew, and the survivors were met by hundreds of cheering locals who had lined the quayside.
Of the 229 people on board when the Rohilla had been wrecked, 84 had died. The rescue was one of the most momentous in RNLI history and numerous awards for gallantry were made to members of the lifeboat crews.
The successful use of one of the first motor lifeboats in the RNLI fleet during the rescue also increased the popularity of these ‘new-fangled’ innovations, which were initially distrusted by their crew - and paved the way for a new phase of lifeboat development.
The centenary of the rescue will be commemorated in Whitby this weekend (31 Oct – 2 Nov). The commemoration will see a series of events and tributes to remember both those who died and the remarkable RNLI volunteers who helped save 144 lives.
NOTES TO EDITORS
The 7,409-ton SS Rohilla was built in 1906 by Harland & Wolff, the Belfast ship builders who also built the Titanic. The Rohilla was originally a cruise liner owned by the British India Line and then requisitioned in August 1914 as a naval hospital ship.
RNLI tribute film: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lRgYujXxSTs
Downloadable press version of the film: http://www.rnlivideolibrary.org.uk/getvideo.aspx?vid=77sGLbvm
British Pathe footage: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qUzIw_RS0qk
For more information about the Rohilla centenary commemorations: http://rnli.org/NewsCentre/Pages/Centenary-of-dramatic-RNLI-rescue-off-Whitby-to-be-marked-in-weekend-of-commemor.aspx.
For more information contact the RNLI Press Office: 01202 336789/ email@example.com
With over 45 Classic and Vintage cars taking part including a 98-year-old Rolls Royce La France model to an Austin 7.
Invergordon RNLI Station Mechanic / Easter Ross Fundraising Chairman and Press Officer Michael MacDonald attended a Rotary meal in the Royal Dornoch Golf Club on Wednesday 22nd October, during the evening the RNLI volunteers were presented with a cheque for £5700 by East Sutherland Rotary Club President Fiona Risk.
After the cheque presentation, Kevin and Michael gave a brief overview of the RNLI and how crucial funds are to the charity that relies on public donations, & fundraising activities to ensure a 24-hour search and rescue service around the UK and Ireland coasts.
Rotary spokesperson Alistair Risk advised “East Sutherland Rotary are proud and pleased to be able to help such a superb cause as RNLI and hope to continue to be associated with that charity in the years to come”
Michael MacDonald Invergordon RNLI Press Officer advised “ We are delighted to receive a cheque for such a tremendous amount from the East Sutherland Rotary Club, and would like to extend our thanks to the Rotary Club and all involved in the Classic / Vintage Car tour”
The captains of Rhyl Golf club recently paid a visit to the station to present Coxswain Martin Jones with a cheque for £750.50. Alan Chamberlain-Jones and Aileen Morrill had presided over a series of fundraising events in 2014, such as coffee mornings and a raffle. The attached photo shows the cheque being presented to Coxswain Jones at Rhyl lifeboat station.
Martin says "The volunteers at Rhyl RNLI are very grateful to Rhyl Golf Club for their brilliant efforts to raise the money for the station. As a charity, we would not be able to carry on without the support of the local community".
The Coastguard received a number of 999 calls from concerned members of the public after five surfers got into difficulty in the water at around 1.20pm. Three were later confirmed to have died by Devon & Cornwall Police.
Greg Spray, Lifeguard Manager for Newquay and Padstow, said: ‘Our thoughts are with all those connected to those who lost their lives at Mawgan Porth yesterday.’
Both Newquay’s lifeboats – the Atlantic 85 and D class inshore lifeboats – were launched immediately, along with the Padstow all-weather lifeboat, and sped to the scene, where they joined Cornwall Air Ambulance and Coastguard Rescue Teams.
On arrival, it was established that there had originally been seven people in difficulty, but four children had made it ashore safely.
Two RNLI volunteer crew members were landed ashore to help paramedics deliver CPR to two adults. The casualties were then flown to Treliske hospital, where they were sadly pronounced dead on arrival.
A third man was spotted by the Royal Navy helicopter inside the surf line. The lifeboat came alongside in heavy surf, placing a crew member into the sea to support the casualty, and, in heavy breaking surf, placed a strop around the casualty so he could be winched onto the beach. Once on the beach, the crew member then assisted with CPR.
The third man was later pronounced dead on arrival at hospital.
RNLI lifeguards, who don’t currently patrol Mawgan Porth beach, were also called to the scene from neighbouring Fistral beach. The lifeguards helped Coastguard rescue teams clear the beach.
Still unsure if there were further casualties in the sea, the three lifeboats then continued to search the area alongside the Royal Navy helicopter.
Greg continues: ‘We strongly advise those visiting beaches to observe signage, check the conditions and ensure they are not beyond their capability.
‘Every year we look at the risks around the coast when deciding our lifeguard and lifeboat services, as well as our education initiatives.
‘We don’t know exactly what happened, but it’s easy to get caught out by a rip current in these conditions. Rip currents are fast flowing bodies of water that can drag people away from the shoreline and out into deeper water. The best way to avoid a rip is to choose a lifeguarded beach, as lifeguards are trained to identify them and mark out a safe swim zone based on sea conditions.
‘If you’re not at a lifeguarded beach and find yourself caught in a rip current, don’t try to swim against it – if you can, swim parallel to the shore until you are free from the rip, and raise your hand and shout for help.
‘If you see someone in trouble, tell a lifeguard, or dial 999 and ask for the Coastguard.’
The RNLI decides on the level of safety cover at any beach after carrying out a full risk assessment at the request of the local authority or private beach owner. This takes into account numbers and types of beach users, numbers and type of incidents, natural hazards, topography and proximity to other rescue services. A recommendation is then made on the level of safety cover on the beach, including season dates, number of lifeguards and type of rescue equipment. Information on the locations, dates and times of local lifeguard cover is displayed in the area.
RNLI media contacts
- For further information, please contact the RNLI Press Office on 01202 336789. (Please note, outside of office hours this will divert to a Duty Press Officer)
The "WD Mersey" was carrying out dredging operations at Nigg in the Cromarty Firth, when it made contact with a submerged object which holed the vessel and put it in danger of sinking as a result.
Once on scene the lifeboat transferred two crew to the stricken vessel with a salvage pump to assist stem the water ingression.
The lifeboat stood by and later escorted the dredger into Nigg Energy Park dock for an underwater inspection by divers.
The Lifeboat was back along side, refuelled and made ready for service by 11.00am
Last year, lifeboat crews and lifeguards in the UK and Ireland came to the aid of 8,384 people, saving 325 lives.
Where 6 out of 10 RNLI lifeboat launches are only made possible through donations left in Wills, October Free Wills Month is an opportunity to make a bequest that will cost nothing in your lifetime, but make a real difference in years to come.
After taking care of loved ones, any gift is precious to the RNLI. Just £330 pays for a new lifejacket to keep an inshore lifeboat crew member safe at sea, £600 is enough to equip a beach lifeguard, while £1,404 will provide the annual training required for a lifeboat crew member.
Guy Rose, Legacy Administration Manager for the RNLI says: ‘We’re excited to be able to offer members of the public the chance to write, or indeed re-write, their Will for free this October, and although they are not obliged to leave a gift to the RNLI, we really do hope they will consider doing so.
‘We’ve had some wonderful gifts in the past, from sailing boats and beautiful paintings to a 100-year-old bottle of brandy and even a gold tooth!’
Leesa Harwood, Director of Fundraising says: ‘The RNLI benefits from legacy gifts for a large proportion of its funding. But the future of the RNLI over the coming years depends on the generosity of those who remember the charity when they write their Will today.’
‘Pledging a legacy donation helps to secure the future of the lifesaving service that our volunteer crews and lifeguards will continue to provide in years to come.’
For more information about Free Wills Month visit RNLI.org/freewills or contact Nicky Comber firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Trent class Lifeboat ‘MacQuarrie’ and her volunteer crew arrived on scene within 30 minutes. Once arrived, 2 Volunteer went ashore in the XP Daughter craft, to access the casualty, and administer 1st Aid.
Made comfortable by RNLI crew local coastguard team and Scottish Ambulance Service Paramedics who arrived on scene shortly after, Aberdeen Coastguard also tasked Rescue 100 from Stornoway who made best speed to the casualty, to perform a winch from the isolated shoreline to Raigmore Hospital.
Once the injured female was recovered to the safety of the helicopter, the Lifeboat and her crew made their way back to Invergordon West Harbour, refuelled and made ready for service by 5pm
The launch took place around twelve hours after the ending of the ceremony in which HRH The Princess Royal had officially named the station’s new Atlantic 85 inshore lifeboat Claire and David Delves. On arrival at the scene the ILB crew quickly located the person and got them safely on board the lifeboat. They were brought back to the lifeboat station and taken into a warm room where they were checked over by an ambulance crew and found to be in the early stages of hypothermia and as a result taken into the ambulance for further hospital treatment.
RNLI media contacts
• John Ray, Volunteer Lifeboat Press Officer (Ramsgate Lifeboat)
07759 480825 / email@example.com
• Tim Ash, RNLI Public Relations Manager (London/East/South East)
0207 6207426 / 07785 296252 / firstname.lastname@example.org
• James Oxley, RNLI Press Officer (London/East/South East)
0207 6207425 / 07786 668825 / email@example.com
• For enquiries outside normal business hours, contact the RNLI duty press officer on 01202 336789
The research, which is supported by the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) and the Royal Yacthing Association (RYA), will look at what motivates sailors, how often they go to sea, their experience and training, awareness of potential hazards and use of safety procedures and equipment. The findings will be used to help develop tailored and relevant safety messages for yacht sailing community.
An online questionnaire is launching today (Thursday 9 October) and will run for five weeks, during which time anyone who participates in yacht sailing – no matter how often or what level of experience – is invited to visit http://www.rnliyachting.substance.coop/ and complete the short survey.
The survey will be supplemented by focus groups held in selected locations. The project will be undertaken by Substance research, on behalf of the RNLI.
Pip Hare, RNLI Coastal Safety Manager, explains the reasoning behind the research project:
‘The RNLI exists to save lives at sea – a large part of that role is trying to prevent incidents from happening in the first place by providing important safety information. RNLI incident data shows our lifeboat crews have rescued almost 9,850 yacht sailors in the last five years.
‘We’re always pleased to see people enjoying their leisure time at the coast and we want to help ensure they can take part in their chosen activity safely.
‘The aim of this research is to help us understand why people get involved and how they behave when they are on the water so we can provide the most relevant and useful safety information to them. We’re working with the RYA and MCA to join expertise in coastal safety with experience of the sport. Once we have the results of the research, we will work together to develop the most suitable safety programmes and advice.’
Stuart Carruthers, Cruising Manager at the RYA, says:
‘Recreational boating activities are predominantly safe and fun, but accidents which could have been prevented do happen. The RYA’s advice – look after yourself; have a plan; keep in touch and know your limits – underpin the RYA ethos of self-reliance and responsibility for safety on board. The RYA supports this research because it will provide a clearer insight of people’s attitudes to their safety and help us to promote safe behaviour and practice in a more effective way.’
Kirsten Pointer, Head of Evidence Analysis and Research from the MCA, adds:
‘The results of this survey will really help to provide an evidence base to support the improvement of yachting safety standards.’
Those wishing to participate in the survey can visit http://www.rnliyachting.substance.coop/ from Thursday 9 October to complete the short questionnaire. All who participate in the survey are offered the option of free entry into a prize draw to win a McMurdo Fast Find personal locator beacon. A winner will be chosen at random by 15 November 2014. Full terms and conditions for the prize draw, as well as further information about the study, can also be found through the above link.
Notes to editors
- RNLI spokespeople are available for interview. Please contact RNLI Public Relations on the numbers below.
- A photo is attached. Please credit RNL/Nathan Williams.
RNLI media contacts
For more information please contact Laura Fennimore, RNLI Public Relations Officer, on 01202 663181 / Laura_Fennimore@rnli.org.uk.
Having arrived at the scene it was reported by the lifeboat that a casualty had been found by police officers on a mussel bed at the side of the channel and had not been in the water as original reports suggested. Ambulance paramedics were also on scene treating the casualty for injuries sustained. Also at the scene were members of Furness Coastguard Team who had been assisting in the search.
Due to poor radio reception in the area and because of the risks posed by the flooding tide, the lifeboat remained at the scene standing by to act as a radio relay link between the emergency services and the Liverpool Coastguard Rescue Co-ordination Centre. A helicopter was requested to attend and the casualty was flown to Preston Royal hospital for treatment.
The lifeboat crew was stood down at 9-45pm after all emergency staff and equipment was safely ashore. She then returned to the Roa Island station where she was washed off and made ready for the next incident by 10-40pm