John Dryden and Christopher Wale were washed overboard from the Mary Ann Hepworth as it made its way to a stricken vessel off Saltwick.
At 9pm on 3 February 1940 the coxswain received a telephone message from H M Coastguard that a vessel was ashore near Saltwick, just south of Whitby.
In the report of service from the launch the conditions were descried as ' Wind force 9, heavy broken water, showers and rain.' The attempted rescue took place during a wartime black out.
Seven men proceeded to sea aboard the Mary Ann Hepworth, a lifeboat which still does pleasure trips in Whitby harbour to this day. Despite poor visibility the Coxswain James Murfield spotted a ship's light about a mile south of Whitby which appeared close inshore.
After rounding the rock buoy the lifeboat steamed in the direction of the stricken vessel, a Belgian Steamer named "Charles" with ten on board. When turning to go alongside the vessel the lifeboat was struck by a heavy sea which almost tipped the lifeboat over.
The Coxswain was washed out of the cockpit but managed to hold onto the steering wheel. when the boat resumed an even keel it was found that John Dryden who had been standing alongside him had been washed overboard.
James Murfield then took a roll call and found that another crew member Chrstopher Wale had also been washed overboard. Nothing could be seen of them in the darkness.
The lifeboat was brought back to harbour. The coxswain had a nasty cut between the eyes affecting his vision and the other crew were shaken but not seriously hurt.
The lifeboat was launched a further two times in an attempt to reach the vessel with volunteers from local fishing boat taking over. A crew of fresh men were gathered other than mechanic James Philpot who went on to receive a silver medal for gallantry after attending all three launches. All other members of the first crew were awarded an RNLI Bronze medal.
Due to the terrible weather conditions nothing could be done by lifeboat so the Rocket Brigade assembled on the shore and managed to land four of the men via breeches buoy using rope pullies and life rings.
It was suggested that the other six crew aboard had left the vessel via a raft. They were never found.
Pete Thomson, recently retired curator of Whitby Museum and former crew member said: 'The lifeboat crew who bravely attempted to rescue the crew of the SS Charles, as well as those lost from the vessel, are in our thoughts today.'
For more information on the rescue there is a display in Whitby Museum or contact Lifeboat Press Officer for Whitby Ceri Oakes on 07813359428 or at firstname.lastname@example.org
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