A Slice of History at RNLI Rye Harbour

Lifeboats News Release

On December 13th 1923 a tragedy at Pett claimed the life of Lawrence Sperry, an aviation pioneer

Clark archives

The Messenger after the crash at the lifeboat station Rye Harbour

He was flying a Sperry Messenger on a journey from Croydon in Surrey to Amsterdam.

His plane was observed from the cliffs at Fairlight at 12.30 pm as it circled around a couple of times and then headed out to sea at low-level with a misfiring engine. Members of the public reported later that it seemed to land on the water and the RNLI Rye Harbour lifeboat was summoned to help. On arrival all they could see was the tail unit of the floating Messenger showing above the water. There was no sign of the pilot. The lifeboat searched the area for over three hours and when nothing was found, attached a line to tow the stricken plane back to the Harbour.

On board that lifeboat were the brothers Clark, William and Leslie, who were to lose their lives five years later in the Mary Stanford disaster. During their time as lifeboat men they saved many lives. Unfortunately they had not been able to save Lawrence Sperry, whose body was washed ashore some four weeks later about seven miles east of Pett. He was found with no boots or flying suit and it was felt that he had died trying to swim ashore to safety.

William’s and Leslie’s great-nephew Stuart is a member of today’s volunteer lifeboat crew at Rye Harbour, carrying on the family tradition of involvement with the RNLI. During the current lockdown he is often to be found at the boathouse carrying out detailed maintenance to keep the lifeboat in tip-top condition, ready to answer the call to Save Lives at Sea.

Clark archives

William Clark, one of the volunteer lifeboat crew in 1923 also Harbour Master

Paul Bolton

Stuart Clark volunteer crew member at RNLI Rye Harbour

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 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.

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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.