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Richard B Wrightson [ detail ]

East Anglian Daily Times
Friday March 12 1999


News REport - 8th Dec 1899

Called out in atrocious conditions to go to the assistance of a boat in distress the 46ft 13 ton wooden lifeboat Aldeburgh was flung over and submerged by a mighty wave shortly after launching. While some of the 18 crew managed to swim clear and make it back to shore many were trapped under the capsized hull and either drowned at sea or after the boat came to rest upside down on Aldeburgh beach.

As the sad centenary of the tragic event approaches preparations are being made to honour the brave men who perished that day in the name of duty. A church service is being organised and a wreath will be laid at sea. Efforts are now being made to trace living relatives of victims and survivors of one of Aldeburgh's worst disasters as recounted below. At 11am on Thursday telephone messages were received at Aldeburgh that minute guns were firing out at sea to the southward but caution was exercised before the gun cotton rockets used for the purpose of summoning the crew of the lifeboat at Aldeburgh were fired," reported The East Anglian Daily Times of December 8 1899.

An understated introduction to a graphic account of one of the most terrible disasters ever to hit the East Anglian coast. On that morning responding to the alarm signals with unswerving dedication to duty 18 local crewmen had swiftly mustered at the lifeboat station. The sprat boats had taken the early morning tide but those who had gone north saw that a gale was brewing and wisely beached at Sizewell," continues the report. So horrendous were the sea conditions that even after meeting at the lifeboat station it was some time before the order was given to launch the 46ft “Aldeborough".

The storm at length broke and by noon a heavy gale was raging from the south east by east blowing dead on shore. Signals of distress were soon heard. Battling against the heavy sea the crew fought against the on shore wind until they headed south at great speed with sails set. But despite making good progress disaster lay only minutes away. Just then a heavy sea struck the boat on her quarter and before her helm could recover a mighty sea struck her broadside. She was over in a moment and such a scene has never been witnessed off Aldeburgh.

The boat remained afloat but was driven by the force of the sea inshore. Some crew members struggled free or had been thrown clear of the crippled boat. But half of them were trapped in the upturned keel. Almost all the inhabitants of Aldeburgh were watching the boat as she went through the surf towards Slaughden Quay at the southern end of the town and cries of horror were raised in a thousand voices when it was seen that she had capsized.

When it finally beached no time was lost in attempting to release those held inside the 13 ton boat. A rush was then made to cut through the wreck with axes. On the tide receding there was great anxiety to dig out the boat in which by that time a large hole had been made. Work was carried on with remarkable energy although darkness set in and by 6.30pm all bodies had been recovered. People had poured on to the beach from the town as news of the tragedy spread. Many were wives and mothers of the men trapped in the boat. They were helpless to act as the muffled shouts and screams of their suffering loved ones reached them.

Interviewed at home after the ordeal by the East Anglian Daily Times reporter he said “We missed half a dozen of the crew at once and knew they must be under the boat. In a short time James Miller Ward was washed out from under the fore part of the boat. He was insensible and dead really, for Dr Wrightson and others tried for an hour or more to bring him to and could not do so. The tide was still making and with the waves breaking right over the boat some of us were working up to our necks in water all the afternoon before we got the last of the bodies out from under the boat. Some of them were dreadfully crushed."