Sunderland Volunteer Life Brigade Rescues

    The First Rescue –

    14 October 1877 Loch Cree

    The first rescue by the Sunderland Brigade took place on shortly after its founding in 1877, when an iron barque, the Loch Cree, was a casualty of a gale and high seas when being towed in to Sunderland harbour. Just before 10pm the Coastguards fired a rocket to summon the newly formed VLB. The training they had done was put into practice as a line was speedily fired to the vessel to take off the crew. The crew decided at this stage not to leave the ship so the Brigadesmen and Coastguards stayed on watch in case further help was needed. About 3am the gale reached an alarming height and the crew signalled to the shore for assistance. The VLB fired another rocket which was made fast by the ship’s crew and, using the breeches buoy equipment, the 18 crew members and a pilot were taken off and landed safely within an hour.

    4 December 1882 Gladys

    Between the hours of 10 and 11pm on this day the screw steamer Gladys of Whitby arrived off Sunderland harbour and signalled for the pilot but the heavy seas meant that no pilot could go. So the ship’s master, Captain McGregor put out to sea again. By the following morning very high seas and blinding showers were recorded and shortly after 5am a huge wave hit the Gladys with such force that her starboard bow was stoved in; the Captain at once tried to make for the safety of Sunderland harbour. The signals were fired to call out the Brigade at 6.30am. The Gladys was being driven ashore by the storm and the rocket apparatus was carried near to her but she came so close to a jetty that lines could be thrown to her. These were used to take off the 23 crew members and the son of the owner, Mr Marwood, all of whom were exhausted.

    16 February 1884 Sleipner

    The Sleipner was a Norwegian brigantine carrying pit props to the port of Sunderland. She went aground on the North Sands just after 6.30 in the morning. The Coastguards and Brigadesmen on watch were soon on the scene and quickly fired a rocket and line but at first the crew did not know how to secure it. Eventually the line was properly fixed and in just half and hour the crew of 8 were brought ashore and taken to the Watch House. The beautifully carved name board of the Sleipner is still on display in the Roker Watch House.

    23 March 1900 Maliano

    The first rescue of the twentieth century was from the Spanish steamer Maliano after she lost steerage and grounded on Roker beach and heeled over. A line was fired by the Brigadesmen but the breeches buoy could not be used because the crew had not secured the line properly. A Coastguard, William Hennen volunteered to climb the hawser from the shore to the ship, a very difficult and dangerous task, which he successfully achieved. He fixed the apparatus then assisted the 23 crew members to safety. The crew were lodged in the Watch House overnight and given dry clothing and refreshments. To mark the rescue some of the crew had a photograph taken of themselves with the Brigadesmen; a copy of this is in the Watch House. William Hennen was awarded the Board of Trade Sea Gallantry Medal for his part in the rescue.

    22 November 1904 Indianic

    The Indianic was on a voyage from Antwerp in ballast and had been making little headway in the strong seas and wind. Then at about 5am she stopped answering her helm and stranded with great force on rocks south of the South Pier. The Sunderland South Brigade and the Coastguard turned out, under the command of Chief Officer Parkes and the first rocket they fired got a line to the ship. The 2 passengers and 25 crew were all safely landed by breeches buoy. One of the passengers was the wife of the second engineer, a Mrs Carter.

    22 November 1927 Efos

    The Efos was bound from London travelling up the east coast in a strong easterly gale. The vessel had just got round Roker Pier when a huge sea struck her, she refused to answer to her helm. With the sea breaking over her, and driving her stern round, she ran ashore. The Roker VLB were called out and they made a number of unsuccessful attempts to get a line on board. After it was found that the lifeboat could not get to the ship the Brigade fired another line and this time it successfully reached the Efos and was secured by the crew. Working in darkness the Brigade brought the crew of 17 men off one by one; most of the men were from Sunderland. Captain Forsyth, a native of South Shields, was the last to leave the ship. The Sunderland Daily Echo reported: ‘There can be nothing but praise for the work of the Roker Volunteer Life Brigade. They worked with a will and performed their arduous task as if on a drill parade, so orderly and methodically were the duties of each member….’

    17 October 1940 HMS Fame and HMS Ashanti

    In the early hours on 17th October 1940 a flotilla of destroyers was heading to the Tyne to escort a new battleship HMS King George V. Visibility was poor due to heavy drizzle and the darkness but the sea was calm. Having mistaken a marker buoy two of these ships, HMS Fame and HMS Ashanti, ran straight onto the rocks near Whitburn at full speed. Both were grounded and the Fame caught fire as some of her oil pipes were fractured. The two ships ended up side by side on the rocks. The Brigade arrived near Whitburn in total darkness and located the ships from the sound of their alarm signals. The Brigadesmen then had to unload the gear and carry it about a quarter of a mile. As this was a major incident the South Shields VLB was also called out. The leaking oil prevented the use of rockets so the Brigadesmen took the gear down onto the rocks aware that they were at risk from mines and barbed wire. Battling with the sea, the darkness and spilled fuel oil, they got into a position where a line could be floated down to them from the ship. The two Brigades set to work to get all the gear ready and to put firemen on the Fame to fight the fire. The Brigades were then told that there was to be an attempt to refloat the ships on the rising tide. They were stood down and rested as they had been on duty for ten hours. By 9.30pm that day it was clear that neither ship could be refloated so the order came to put the lines back on. Once again, in the darkness, the Brigadesmen carried the equipment over the rocks, made contact with the ships and then stood by waiting for the call to action. The Brigades Captains made the decision to arrange the rescuers in watches as it was clearly going to be a lengthy rescue. At 2.30am the call came to abandon the ships and the Brigades were swiftly back in action. The South Shields Brigade took the responsibility for getting apparatus onto the Fame while the Sunderland Brigade attended to the Ashanti. In all 272 men were rescued, 86 by the South Shields VLB and 186 by Sunderland; this remains the world record for the number of men ever rescued in this way in a single incident. It was near midday by the time the Brigade packed up their gear and returned to the Watch House; they had been working for 32 hours and were exhausted.

    20 January 1963 Adelfotis II

    This ship was running for shelter in the Tyne in a force nine when she struck the Black Midden Rocks and then rebounded and was swept across the harbour grounding at Herd Sands. Massive waves drove her 300 yards along the sands in the following few hours. In danger of capsizing, and with tugs and lifeboats unable to get near, the Mayday call sent out by the Greek crew was answered by both the South Shields and Sunderland Volunteer Life Brigades. A line was fired to the ship by rocket and, within two hours, all of the 23 crew members and one small dog were rescued. This was a very difficult rescue because of the terrible weather conditions; some Brigadesmen had to act as human anchors to prevent the equipment being blown out of the ground. Some went into the waves tied to safety lines to pull the crew to the shore. The beached Adelfotis II was a draw to the public and it was agreed by the two Brigades that there was an opportunity to use the wreck for publicity for much needed recruits. On a cold but calm 23 February a public re-enactment of the rescue took place and drew large crowds. The brigades used the rocket equipment and each took off two ‘survivors’ by breeches buoy; these were volunteers from a local Sea Scout Troop.

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    Sunderland Volunteer Life Brigade:::The Watch House, Pier View, Roker, Sunderland. SR6 0PR

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