Lusitania disaster’s youngest survivor commemorated with RNLI charity bike ride

Lifeboats News Release

Audrey Lawson Johnston was the youngest survivor of the Lusitania disaster and a lifelong RNLI fundraiser, next weekend her family are commemorating her legacy with ‘Audrey’s Farewell’ charity bike ride to raise vital funds for both New Quay and Tower RNLI Lifeboat Stations.

Photo of Audrey in the lifeboat named after her

New Quay RNLI

Photo of Audrey in the lifeboat named after her

Leaving Swansea on Friday 8 September 2023, more than 20 cyclists will ride 190 gruelling miles across the coastline of south-west Wales to raise money for the RNLI, in memory of Audrey Lawson Johnston.

The peloton of riders will aim to complete the journey in just 72 hours in a bid to raise £25,000 to be split between two RNLI lifeboat stations; New Quay in west Wales and Tower – the RNLI’s busiest lifeboat station situated on the River Thames in London.

Audrey Lawson Johnston was just three months old when she was pulled into a lifeboat during the Lusitania disaster on 15 May 1915. The ship that was travelling from New York to Liverpool, had been hit by German torpedoes and quickly sank off the Old Head of Kinsale with 1,195 lives lost. While Audrey’s parents and brother survived, she lost her sisters Amy and Susan in the sinking.

Audrey supported the RNLI throughout her life and was relentless in her fundraising efforts for the lifeboats. Alongside her brother, the pair raised money for a new lifeboat at New Quay RNLI named the Amy Lea after their mother, that went on service in 2004.

Audrey passed away in 2011 and when the Amy Lea lifeboat retired the following year, Audrey’s family continued her fundraising legacy by raising enough money to fund New Quay’s current inshore lifeboat the Audrey LJ.

Now the Audrey LJ is coming to the end of its operational life and will be retired at the end of this year. Since 2012 the lifeboat has launched 188 times, aided 150 people and saved the lives of six people. The station’s current all-weather lifeboat the Frank and Lena Clifford of Stourbridge will also retire in the next few weeks having served since 1991.

New Quay RNLI are currently trying to raise £105,600 through the New Quay Lifeboat Appeal, to train the volunteer crew to get to grips with their new Shannon all-weather lifeboat, which arrived in June this year and will replace the Frank and Lena Clifford of Stourbridge. The appeal funds are also going towards the transport the launch equipment that will power the Shannon to rescue, saving lives for years to come.

Half of the total funds raised for ‘Audrey’s Farewell’ bike ride will go directly towards the New Quay Lifeboat Appeal. Inspired by their granny, four of Audrey’s grandchildren are taking part in the charity ride. Mark Hudson is one of them and is the lead event organiser, he said:

‘My granny was an absolute trailblazer and did so much in her life to raise money for the RNLI. After serving the Ceredigion community for 10 years, The Audrey LJ will be retired and this bike ride is a tribute to both the lifeboat and Audrey herself, the wonderful story of someone who was saved from drowning at sea, who dedicated her life to help the RNLI to do the same for others.’

‘I can’t think of a more noble thing than volunteering and risking your own life to help others that are in danger. I want to raise as much money as possible so the volunteer lifeboat crews can to continue their lifesaving work.’

The route will take the cyclists across the Gower and up to Carmarthen, it then follows the coast route through to St. Davids before arriving at New Quay on Sunday 10 September.

Along the way the cyclists will be stopping off at all 10 RNLI lifeboat stations including The Mumbles, Horton, Burry Port, Tenby, Angle, Little Haven, St. Davids, Fishguard, Cardigan and New Quay.

New Quay RNLI Lifeboat Operations Manager, Roger Couch, said:

‘Audrey was a remarkable woman who did so much for the RNLI and selflessly helped others. Her family have continued her lifesaving legacy through their dedicated fundraising and we are so grateful to them all for their efforts over the last almost two decades.

‘They have undoubtedly saved many lives through the money they’ve raised and have touched the lives of hundreds of families.’

To support and donate – please visit the event JustGiving page. You can follow updates from the riders during the tour by following #AudreysFarewell #TourDeDyfed across social media.

The charity bike ride, known as ‘The Tour de Dyfed & West Glamorgan’ / ‘Audrey’s Farewell’ is sponsored by Oxford Innovation Space, RatesMate, Cyclefit Store Street, Karma Drinks, Gower Brewery and Princes Gate.

Notes to Editor:

  • Audrey’s grandson, Mark Hudson and New Quay RNLI Lifeboat Operations Manager, Roger Couch are available for interviews on request.
  • There is potential for media opportunities along the route including photos and interviews with Mark.
  • Follow along with the riders who will be posting on social media with the hashtags #AudreysFarewell #TourDeDyfed.
  • There is a photo/interview opportunity on Sunday 10 September, when all of the event riders will have finished at New Quay Lifeboat Station where the Audrey LJ lifeboat will be out on the slip-way.
  • Additional photos can be found in this Google Drive folder.
Below is a rough schedule for the ride: Audrey’s Farewell / RNLI Tour De Dyfed

Friday 8 September (day 1):

  • 8.30am – depart Swansea Premier Inn (City Centre)
  • 9am – arrive The Mumbles RNLI
  • 9.15am – depart The Mumbles RNLI
  • 10.45/11am – arrive Port Eynon RNLI
  • 11.30am – depart Port Eynon RNLI
  • 2-3.30pm – lunch stop at Burry Port RNLI
  • Finish day one in Tenby.

Saturday 9 September (day 2):

  • 9am – arrive Tenby RNLI
  • 9.15am – depart Tenby RNLI
  • 10.30/11am – arrive Angle RNLI
  • 11.15am – depart Angle RNLI
  • 1-2pm – lunch stop at Little Haven RNLI
  • 4.30/5pm – arrive St Davids RNLI (finish day two).

Sunday 10 September (day 3):

  • 7am – leave St Davids
  • 8.15am – arrive Fishguard RNLI
  • 8.30am – depart Fishguard RNLI
  • 10.30/11am – arrive Cardigan RNLI
  • 11.15am – depart Cardigan RNLI
  • 1.15-2pm – arrive New Quay RNLI (event finish line).

RNLI media contacts

For more information about the event or to arrange any interviews/potential media opportunities, please contact Claire Fitzpatrick-Smith, RNLI Regional Media Officer, on [email protected] or 07977 728 315.

Alternatively you can contact the RNLI Press Office on [email protected] or 01202 336789.

New Quay's Audrey LJ at sea

Nicholas Leach

New Quay's Audrey LJ at sea
Audrey with her grandson Mark, the lead event organiser

RNLI/Claire Fitzpatrick-Smith

Audrey with her grandson Mark, the lead event organiser
Audrey with her brother Perky

New Quay RNLI

Audrey with her brother Perky
Mark raising money for the RNLI

Mark Hudson

Mark (right) on a RNLI charity ride
New Quay's new Shannon and launching equipment

Nicholas Leach

New Quay's new Shannon and launching equipment

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.