Seahouses Lifeboat crew lay flowers at 1918 wreck site
Seahouses Lifeboat pay tribute to the wreck of HMS Ascot
HMS Ascot was a Racecourse Class Mine Sweeper (Paddle Steamer), with 53 crew. At some time on 10 November 1918, she was at sea approx. six - seven miles off Seahouses, when she was spotted by a German Submarine UB67 patrolling in the area, commanded by Oberleutnant Zur See Hellmuth Von Doemming.
It is understand UB 67 had one torpedo left, which was fired at HMS Ascot. The vessel sank with the loss of all hands. The Keeper on the Longstone Lighthouse heard the explosion, and reported that he thought a vessel had struck a mine, and requested lifeboats to launch.
The explosion was also heard on the shore. The Seahouses (then known as North Sunderland) and Holy Island Lifeboats were launched. The Holy Island Lifeboat was the Lizzie Porter (later to be stationed at Seahouses) and the Seahouses boat was the Forster Fawcett. Both were 35ft lifeboats powered by oars and sail. A steam tug also responded.
Weather conditions were gale force winds, with rough seas and poor visibility. It is believed that HMS Ascot was the last vessel to be sunk in anger during the First War 1914-18. The lifeboats reached the scene, and it's thought not without great difficulty . However, despite their best efforts in searching the location, no survivors were found. Both lifeboats returned to their stations, and the steam tug assisted the North Sunderland lifeboat back towards the shore.
The U Boat surrendered on 24 November 1918, and was broken up at Swansea in 1922. It is believed the commander, Von Doemming, died in 1921. The wreck site is locally known as the Sweeper, although its origins were not fully appreciated until recently. The wreck position is 55 37'924N and 001 29'860W.
One crew member of HMS Ascot was Able Seaman John Matthew Postlethwaite of Liverpool. His memorial can be found at Plymouth Naval Memorial. His descendants, a Mr Paul King and family, visited Seahouses in late May 2016, to make a donation in memory of Mr King's late wife Dorothy, and mentioned the Ascot story, although their information was very scant and incomplete.
The station was able to research far deeper, and located the RNLI Service Return at Seahouses Lifeboat Station. They provided the family with a photocopy and other documentation they had discovered from non RNLI sources. Further research on the internet revealed the story as now known. The family expressed a wish to mark the centenary of the loss of the crew of HMS Ascot, including their relative from Liverpool, A/S Postlethwaite.
The family went to the wreck site aboard a local passenger vessel with Seahouses Lifeboat Operations Manager Ian Clayton, at approximately 3pm on Saturday 10 November 2018, escorted by the Seahouses Lifeboat, to spread flowers at the site.
A short service of remembrance was held outside of the lifeboat station prior to going to the wreck site. Seahouses Lifeboat Crew also spread flowers as a mark of respect and remembrance, because of the RNLI involvement at the sinking. The crew joined the family for refreshments on their safe return to Seahouses.
Seahouses Lifeboat Operations Manager Ian Clayton commented: 'This was a tragic story, but the family were most appreciative for the RNLI help in arranging the ceremony to remember the Ascot and her crew. It was an emotional experience for them, but a dignified and respectful way to mark and remember the 53 brave souls who lost their lives.'
Video of the wreck can be found at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AIjxHU0FyZk
RNLI Media contacts
For more information please contact Ian Clayton, RNLI Volunteer Lifeboat Press Officer on: 07981 069177.
Key facts about the RNLI
The RNLI charity saves lives at sea. Its volunteers provide a 24-hour search and rescue service around the United Kingdom and Republic of Ireland coasts. The RNLI operates over 238 lifeboat stations in the UK and Ireland and, in a normal year, more than 240 lifeguard units on beaches around the UK and Channel Islands. The RNLI is independent of Coastguard and government and depends on voluntary donations and legacies to maintain its rescue service. Since the RNLI was founded in 1824, its lifeboat crews and lifeguards have saved over 142,700 lives.