1914–1918: The Great War

During the First World War (1914-1918), lifeboats launched 1,808 times and saved 5,332 lives.
PHotograph of the Rohilla article in the Daily Mirror dated 2 November 1914

Photo: Nathan Williams

Photograph of the Rohilla article in the Daily Mirror dated 2 November 1914 

With the majority of men being called away to join the war efforts, the average age of lifeboat crew members increased to over 50. During the First World War (1914–1918), lifeboats launched 1,808 times and saved 5,332 lives.

The rescues that took place during this time are the subject of our touring exhibition, Hope in the Great War. Read about some of them below.

Rohilla

On 30 October 1914, Mary and 34 others were saved by Whitby lifeboat in two trips when the hospital ship Rohilla struck Whitby Rock. The lifeboat was carried by hand over a seawall and launched from the beach.

Four further lifeboats from Upgang, Teesmouth, Scarborough, and another from Whitby, also battled the terrible seas to reach the ship. Some of the crew jumped into the sea in desperation.

A motor lifeboat from Tynemouth, the Henry Vernon, released oil to calm the waves and took the last 50 people on board. One hundred and forty four people were saved because of the courage of the lifeboat crews.

They had worked for over 50 hours in atrocious conditions.

In 2014, the centenary of this dramatic rescue was commemorated in Whitby with a series of events and tributes.

The lifering from the Rohilla on display at the RNLI Whitby Lifeboat Museum

Photo: RNLI / Nathan Williams 

The lifering from the Rohilla on display at the RNLI Whitby Lifeboat Museum

Lusitania

The British ocean liner RMS Lusitania was torpedoed and sunk by a German submarine, causing the deaths of 1,198 passengers and crew on 7 May 1915. She was 11 miles (18 km) off the southern coast of Ireland and had been on her way to Liverpool from New York.

The naval station at Queenstown received the Lusitania’s distress call and sent all available tugs and trawlers to the scene. Queenstown’s motorless RNLI lifeboat James Stevens No. 20 caught a tow to the scene from one of the tugs. It was a grim scene, but they were able to help those who had been fortunate enough to make it into one of the ship’s lifeboats and to pull to safety those few still alive in the water.

A further 14 volunteers from Courtmacsherry launched their lifeboat Kezia Gwilt.  Conditions were too calm to use the boat’s sails so they rowed the entire 12-mile journey - a 3 1/2 hour feat. They arrived to a devastating scene with no one left to save. So the crew did the only thing they could do and set about recovering the bodies to bring home to loved ones.

Of the 1,962 passengers and crew aboard Lusitania at the time of the sinking, 1,191 lost their lives. There were 761 survivors.

Read a personal account from one of the survivors here.

Painting entitled The Sinking of the Luisitania by Thomas Marie Madawaska Hemy

Photo: Brencknock Museum and Art Gallery

Painting entitled The Sinking of the Lusitania by Thomas Marie Madawaska Hemy.