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Sheerness lifeboat crew help Canadian family lay a wreath at sea for a loved one

Lifeboats News Release

The Burston family from Canada and other relatives from Northumberland and Essex laid a wreath over a wreck in the Thames estuary in memory of their uncle who perished more than 70 years ago, along with 17 others when their vessel struck a mine.

​The SS Herland, a collier weighing 2645 tons, was en route to London from the port of Methil on the East coast of Scotland on the 7 November 1940 with a cargo of coal, when it struck a mine near to the Nore light vessel in  the Thames Estuary.

Seaman Leslie “Timothy” French, aged just 18 years, was killed along with 15 other crew members and two naval gunners.

On Sunday 12 June, with the cooperation of the Sheerness RNLI volunteers, relatives of Leslie French were able to lay a wreath and say a few words in his memory, something the family have never been able to achieve before, over the recorded position of the wreck.

Those attending were nephew Christopher Burston, along with his wife Isabelle and son Justin who had made the long journey from Canada, neice Janet French and her partner Walter Gee from Essex, and the organiser of the trip, nephew John Hewett from Ponteland in Northumberland.

John said: 'We are extremely grateful to the crew of the Sheerness lifeboat for making this happen for us/ They were excellent, and made us feel most welcome.


'Their patient and calm attitude under the guidance of 2nd coxswain Paul Jarvis in putting the all weather lifeboat George and Ivy Swanson directly over the reported position of the wreck to lay the family wreath made this a special and moving day for all of us.'

Attached to the wreath was a memorial role listing the names of the other crew members who perished along with Leslie French and also details of the present position of the wreck.

RNLI media contacts:

Vic Booth RNLI Lifeboat Press Officer (Sheerness)  07926904453 / 01795 880544 /

Tim Ash, RNLI Public Relations Manager (London/East/South East) on 0207 6207426, 07785 296252 

For enquiries outside normal business hours, contact the RNLI duty press officer on 01202 336789

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The Royal National Lifeboat Institution is the charity that saves lives at sea. Our volunteers provide a 24-hour search and rescue service in the United Kingdom and Ireland from 238 lifeboat stations, including four along the River Thames and inland lifeboat stations at Loch Ness, Lough Derg, Enniskillen, Carrybridge and Lough Ree. Additionally the RNLI has more than 1,000 lifeguards on over 240 beaches around the UK and operates a specialist flood rescue team, which can respond anywhere across the UK and Ireland when inland flooding puts lives at risk.

The RNLI relies on public donations and legacies to maintain its rescue service. As a charity it is separate from, but works alongside, government-controlled and funded coastguard services. Since the RNLI was founded in 1824 our lifeboat crews and lifeguards have saved at least 140,000 lives. Volunteers make up 95% of the charity, including 4,600 volunteer lifeboat crew members and 3,000 volunteer shore crew. Additionally, tens of thousands of other dedicated volunteers raise funds and awareness, give safety advice, and help in our museums, shops and offices.

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