80th Anniversary of Cullercoats Lifeboat Disaster
On Saturday 22 April 1939, the Cullercoats Lifeboat RNLB Richard Silver Oliver, capsized off Sharpness Point in Tynemouth and six of the ten crew aboard were drowned. At 10:30am, the crew of today's Cullercoats Lifeboat will commemorate the loss of their colleagues 80 years before.
Cullercoats Lifeboat crew will launch their current lifeboat, Atlantic 85 Hylton Burdon, on Monday 22 April to place a wreath upon the sea and to remember the six who lost their lives.
The loss of the Richard Silver Oliver is remembered in a stained glass window at Cullercoats Methodist Church and the names of the six men who died are part of the National Memorial at the RNLI Headquarters in Poole.
The lost lifeboatmen were Coxswain George Brunton, Second Coxswain John Redford Armstrong, Motor Mechanic Leonard Abel, Assistant Mechanic John Heddon Scott, together with Station Honorary Secretary Lt. Commander Lionel Blakeney-Booth and his 16 year old stepson, Kenneth Biggar, who was a naval cadet.
RNLB Richard Silver Oliver launched at 2pm on exercise and headed northwards to St Mary's Island into the moderate north-easterly gale. She then turned south and ran before the wind with a drogue to near Tynemouth Pier. Turning towards the shore, she was some 300 yards off Sharpness Point, with the seas on her beam, when an exceptionally heavy sea was seen bearing down on the lifeboat.
Coxswain Brunton put the helm hard over but before his action could have the effect of bringing the lifeboat's head to the oncoming sea, the wave broke over the full length of the lifeboat. She instantly capsized and began to drift towards the shore. This took place just before 3pm.
Bowman Jacob Brunton was thrown clear as the lifeboat overturned and he managed, finally, to struggle to the shore. The District Engineer, John Smith, was aboard the lifeboat and he had been trapped beneath the upturned hull. Emerging from the hull, he climbed aboard the hull and was washed off twice before giving up the struggle and striking out for shore, which he reached, only to immediately collapse unconscious.
Lifeboatmen Oliver Tweedy and James Carmichael had also been trapped beneath the hull but contrived to get clear and cling to it until it washed ashore in King Edward's Bay.
Although the police, ambulance, Coastguards and Tynemouth Lifeboat had been alerted immediately, and despite valiant efforts, by 3:30pm, their services were no longer needed, since the remaining six bodies had all been washed ashore.
The lifeboat itself was washed ashore, repaired and returned to service within the RNLI but the crew at Cullercoats refused to use her again, insisting that a lifeboat of a self-righting design should be sent to Cullercoats.
In April 1940, RNLB Westmorland was placed on service at Cullercoats and a new crew of Cullercoats men stepped forward to take upon themselves the task of saving lives at sea.
For their courageous efforts in helping save the four survivors, two Tynemouth policemen, PC F Millions and PC J W Carss, together with Mr J J Ingledew, were awarded Silver Medals from the Tynemouth Medal Trust. Without their selfless actions, the loss of life could have been much greater and Cullercoats RNLI is very grateful to them for their heroism.
RNLI Media contacts
For more information please contact Anna Heslop, RNLI Volunteer Lifeboat Press Officer on: 07841 417790.
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 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.