Ninety years on Rye Harbour remembers

Lifeboats News Release

On Sunday 18 November members of the Rye Harbour community gathered together to remember and cherish the courage and heroism of the Mary Stanford lifeboat crew

A gathering of seventeen descendants of the men who died in the Mary Stanford disaster standing in Rye Harbour church

RNLI/Martin Bruce

Descendants of the men lost in the Mary Stanford disaster

Each year since the 1928 disaster, in which seventeen men lost their lives, their families and those who live in the village have packed into the little church of the Holy Spirit to remember and to pay their respects. At the central point of the service, as each man's name is read out, a descendant of his comes forward to light a candle which is placed on the altar in a tribute both solemn and moving.

After the service is completed, everyone moves outside to the lifeboat Memorial in which the sixteen recovered crew-men are buried: John Stanley Head was never found. A single red rose laid on each name by current members of RNLI Rye Harbour lifeboat station acknowledges the continuing tradition of service and sacrifice. In the silence after the plaintive notes of the Last Post die away there is time for reflection and gratitude.

This ninetieth year in particular has been a time for the families involved to share their memories and thoughts. The loss of the Mary Stanford crew decimated the male population of the village. Alan Haffenden, who has been his family's representative since 1962, recalls that the disaster was not talked about in its aftermath because emotions were too raw. Since the women of Rye Harbour had a ‘hands on’ involvement with the lifeboat, moving the wooden rollers that enabled the boat to launch, the whole village was stunned by the disaster in a way less likely to happen today. Small details bring the tragedy closer: Mrs Tunbridge, who ran the café near the William the Conqueror pub, took care of all the children not old enough to attend the massive funeral.

Charles and Ron Pope remember their father William laying flowers at the memorial in the churchyard every year until his death in 1966. He felt guilty that he was not on the boat on that fateful night. His wife Julia, their mother, died the following year, of a broken heart.

‘I’d love to have met him,’ admitted Bill Head about his grandfather, the Mary Stanford coxswain Herbert. ‘My father, who was working in Gibraltar at the time, had to come back immediately. He was too late for the funeral, alas. He had to knuckle down and become the family breadwinner.’

The wheel has come full circle for Stuart Clark, great nephew of William and Leslie, both of whom lost their lives in 1928. He has volunteered this year for the RNLI in Rye Harbour and explained: ‘The disaster was always ‘about’ when we were young. A memorial scroll hung over Nan’s chair although she didn’t want to talk about it. I’m glad to have the opportunity to train as lifeboat crew. It’s a family just like our own and it’s there when you need it at sea.’

Descendants of the Mary Stanford crew are confident that their brave forebears will always be remembered, year by year. As George Ford explained, 'This is our way of keeping alive the sacrifice they made'.

RNLI Media contacts

· Martin Bruce, Rye Harbour RNLI volunteer Deputy Lifeboat Press Officer (07789) 818878 martinthebruce@gmail.com·

· Paul Dunt, Regional Media Officer (South East), 0207 6207426, 07785 296252 paul_dunt@rnli.org.uk

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

RNLI online: For more information on the RNLI please visit http://www.rnli.org/. News releases and other media resources, including RSS feeds, downloadable photos and video, are available at the RNLI News Centre.

Key facts about the RNLI

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 237 lifeboat stations, including four along the River Thames and inland lifeboat stations at Loch Ness, Lough Derg, Enniskillen and Lough Ree. Additionally the RNLI has more than 1,000 lifeguards on over 180 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.

Learn more about the RNLI

For more information please visit the RNLI website or Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. News releases, videos and photos are available on the News Centre.

Contacting the RNLI - public enquiries

Members of the public may contact the RNLI on 0300 300 9990 or by email.

The RNLI is a charity registered in England and Wales (209603) and Scotland (SC037736). Charity number 20003326 in the Republic of Ireland.

Sarah Reader, great niece of William Clark, stands in front of the altar and lights a candle in his memory

RNLI/Martin Bruce

Sarah Reader, great niece of William Clark, lights a candle in his memory
Seventeen lighted candles on the altar of Rye Harbour church which is draped in the RNLI flag

RNLI/Martin Bruce

Seventeen candles lit in memory of the sacrifice and courage of the Mary Stanford crew
Four RNLI volunteers bend down to place a red rose on the names of four of the crew who were lost in the Mary Stanford disaster

RNLI/Martin Bruce

RNLI volunteers place a red rose on each of the names on the Mary Stanford memorial

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.

Learn more about the RNLI

For more information please visit the RNLI website or Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. News releases, videos and photos are available on the News Centre.

Contacting the RNLI - public enquiries

Members of the public may contact the RNLI on 0300 300 9990 (UK) or 1800 991802 (Ireland) or by email.

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