Salcombe commemorates the centenary of the Lifeboat Disaster

Posted by thewinkingprawn on October 21, 2016

Salcombe lifeboat.jpg


On the morning of October 27th 1916, in the middle of the First World War, Salcombe’s lifeboat William and Emma capsized on Salcombe Bar after returning from an abortive mission. Thirteen of the fifteen-man crew were drowned. 


For those of us who live or holiday in Salcombe, the presence of the lifeboat and its incredible crew is both reassuring and inspiring.  The lifeboat is just as vital today as it was on that fateful day a century ago, when tragedy struck the Salcombe crew and the community. 


This week, one hundred years to the day, the town is commemorating the disaster and those who were lost, and thanks to crew member and press officer Matt Davies, this is what’s happening and how you can get involved…


What was the Salcombe Lifeboat Disaster?


The lifeboat had been called out to assist the Western Lass which was wrecked in a storm near Prawle Point. In spite of the huge waves breaking on Salcombe Bar, the crew succeeded in getting out to sea, but on reaching the wrecked schooner, found that her crew had already been rescued by the rocket apparatus team at Prawle.


Battling against near hurricane force winds the crew headed for home, but on attempting to re-cross the Bar their little craft capsized.  The disaster was one of the worst in the history of the RNLI and, for Salcombe’s close-knit community, the loss was devastating.  It was all the more harrowing because many had seen the lifeboat capsize as it attempted to return to the safety of the harbour, and were forced to watch as husbands, brothers, sons, friends and neighbours battled for their lives within sight of their homes.


What’s happening to commemorate the Salcombe Lifeboat Centenary?


A host of activities have already taken place in the last 12 months leading up to the centenary.  Last October a book was published about the disaster and shortly after a film was created, presented by Adam Hart Davis and Monty Halls (available to view here).  Local monumental mason Adrian Mundy has cleaned and restored the graves of the crew who lost their lives, in Shadycombe cemetery. 


Memorial stones have also been constructed, which will be positioned on the coast path to the eastern and western sides of Salcombe harbour overlooking the site of the 1916 capsize. One of these stones is currently on display in the town.  A lifeboat corner has also been established in Holy Trinity Church, incorporating a slate plaque bearing the names of the 1916 crew, an RNLI flag and a lifeboat model.


On 27th October there will be a service of commemoration at Holy Trinity Church, a wreath laying at sea, after which all participating lifeboats will process up harbour to Whitestrand with a lone Piper aboard The Baltic Exchange III.


We have been very committed to marking this momentous anniversary appropriately and ensuring we pay our respects to the brave 13 crew who paid the ultimate sacrifice when trying to help others at sea. One hundred years on our crew demonstrate the same selflessness and courage as their predecessors, illustrating that the core RNLI values continue through the generations.


How can supporters of the lifeboat get involved?


We hope many people in the community will turn out mark the occasion and pay their respects to these brave lifeboat men.  Members of the public are free to attend the church service but spaces are limited and we do recommend arriving early to avoid disappointment. Extra seating has been created in the church along with a marquee at the front of the church to enable more people to attend.


After the church service, people will be able to go afloat in their own boats to view the wreath laying ceremony on the bar, but we do ask them to respect the ceremony and to stay a reasonable distance away from it.


The owner of The Bolt, Mrs Angela Yeoman, is very kindly opening her garden up to the public so those who can't get afloat can go up there and watch the wreath laying ceremony on the bar from dry land.


How many members of the crew are there today?


We have a total sea going crew of 26 people and a further 10 which are shore crew. The all-weather lifeboat takes seven crew and the inshore lifeboat takes three crew.


To what extent is it funded by donations?


95% of the RNLI's total income comes from donations. We are separate from the Coastguard and independent from the Government.  In context, it cost £168.1M to run the RNLI in 2015, which is around £460.000 per day.  The all-weather lifeboat crew member full kit costs £1593, the inshore lifeboat member full kit costs £1881, the all-weather lifeboat station costs £210,000 a year, the inshore lifeboat station annual running costs are £90,000, and individual crew member annual training costs £1,569.


How often does the Salcombe lifeboat go out each year on average?


So far this year to date we have launched a total of 42 times, the all-weather lifeboat went out 25 times and the inshore lifeboat went out 17 times.  We train on a weekly basis so that the crew’s skills are constantly maintained and skill fade doesn't set in. Over the summer we launch on training exercises on a Tuesday evening at 5.30pm each week and over the winter we launch on Sunday mornings at 9.30am.