Epic Rescue by Walton Lifeboat 100 Years Ago

This year, 2017, is the 100th anniversary of the rescue of 92 lives by Walton’s Lifeboat from the SS Peregrine (below) aground on the Long Sand Head.

S S Peregrine
My thanks again to Steven Walker who has sent me the following item for publication here.

100 years ago the Walton Lifeboat was involved in the rescue of refugees escaping war in Europe. It was one of the most dangerous rescue missions ever undertaken by the RNLI and took place within sight of The Naze. On December 29, 1917 the SS Peregrine had run aground off Walton on a notorious sand bank as it was attempting to make its way to the river Thames and eventual safety for the passengers.

It was the largest single rescue undertaken in the waters off the East Anglian coast, with 92 people plucked to safety from a stricken ship in treacherous conditions. Passengers and crew tied themselves to the engine room of their ship after it ran aground in high winds and eventually broke in half. But they were all lifted to safety by brave rescuers in what has since become the world’s oldest motorised lifeboat the James Stevens No14. The lifeboat was fitted with a petrol engine in 1906, becoming one of the first motor lifeboats in the RNLI.

The coastguard informed the Walton Lifeboat Station at 9.30pm of the emergency on the ship, which was carrying 59 passengers, including children and 33 crew, mainly Belgian refugees from the fighting in Flanders. An epic rescue mission, lasting almost 14 hours, then took place against a backdrop of easterly gales, heavy lashing seas, rain and sleet.

The Peregine’s Captain Bill Branthwaite Capt. Branthwaitehad driven the ship across the sunken bows of the Swedish steamer Iris – which had been wrecked the day before, and whose crew had been rescued by the Clacton lifeboat – after sending out an SOS through wireless telegraphy.

Knowing that his ship might rupture at any time, the captain persuaded the passengers to move to the boat deck, where they were tied to the engine room skylight and funnel and covered in blankets and tarpaulins. With the ship’s ribs breaking and time running out, the James Stevens No.14 reached them at 4am following an arduous search and used the help of a nearby Government patrol vessel, Clacton Belle, to begin the difficult transfer of passengers to safety.

Shortly after the lifeboat left, the Peregrine broke in two. The crew then took shelter on the fore part of the wreck under the bridge until the lifeboat was able to return at dawn. On his return Coxswain William Hammond found considerably more dangerous conditions, with the Peregrine locked into the wreck of the Iris.

It took six teams pulling the lifeboat alongside the bow of the Iris, competing with the heavy seas, to carry out the rescue of the remaining panic-stricken crew, who were all amazingly saved free of injury. The severely damaged lifeboat reached Walton quay at 12.15pm, where a large crowd had gathered to greet the survivors after the miraculous rescue.

956 James Stevens No 14 Crew

Praise for the rescue crew (pictured above)  followed, culminating on January 12, 1918, when a letter was received from RNLI HQ confirming an award of the Silver Medal of the institution to the Coxswain Hammond and Bronze to the Second Coxswain, Mr J C Byford. During its service the lifeboat was launched 126 times and 227 lives were saved.

John Steer, who wrote a history book on the Walton lifeboats, said: “They were lucky to survive. “A few months later a smaller ship went ashore and was seen by everyone but by the time they got there everyone was lost.”

The James Stevens No 14 was re-discovered in the 1990’s and purchased by the Frinton & Walton Heritage Trust to restore her to her motorised state of 1906, and then use her to take the public out on short trips in local waters around Walton-on-the-Naze.

The restoration was completed after considerable hard work, voluntary effort and fundraising activity enabling James Stevens No.14 to be re-launched by TV presenter Griff Rhys Jones in September 2009 at Titchmarsh Marina, Walton-on-the-Naze, the craft’s operational base and where she is normally on view. On 3 June 2012 she was one of the historic vessels that took part in Her Majesty the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Pageant on the River Thames

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