Miracle at sea as lifeboat capsizes book launch Andy

Hastings Lifeboat SUS-160720-103712001
Hastings Lifeboat SUS-160720-103712001

When the Cyril and Lilian Bishop lifeboat first came to Hastings it was expected her life would consist of the rescue of small local boats.

In fact she was to spend four days and nights under German attack, being bombed on the beaches of Dunkirk.

She came home battle-scarred but safe but her adventures were far from over.

Dee Day White, who is jointly responsible for bringing the boat back to Hastings, recounts how the lifeboat capsized during a rescue.

He said: “She went to the rescue in 1944 after seeing flares from a landing craft in trouble off Pett. She launched into the teeth of a storm.

“Ned Adams was her Cox and Fred White Second Cox.

“Gale force winds were right across the beam of the boat and the deck was awash at all times. Off Winchelsea Beach, in broadside seas, the crew could suddenly feel her going over.

“Dick Harffrey was in the bow with Charlie Haste when she started to roll all the way over. She righted herself in a matter of minutes, surfacing with Dick hanging on to the top-rail. It took two men to bring him back on board.

“They then realised that Ned Adams was swimming toward the boat and he was pulled aboard.

“The engine had stalled so Charlie shouted ‘Drop the anchor over quickly’ but the lashings tying it down were wet, hard, cold and not easy to move. When the anchor was finally thrown over, the shackle on the chain got cuaght in the fore hawser and only dropped a short way down. It was swinging around on every wave banging into the boat.

“The anchor was caught with a piece of wire and secured before more damage was caused. Luckily the engine re-started but because it was fitted with a float valve, which had got stuck during the capsize, cutting off most of the fuel supply, she only had about a quarter speed and her rudder was out of line with the wheel.

“One large wave then came up behind her and lifted the bow up as it passed beneath her. She was in the water from her stern to her canopy.

“The suddenly the engine kicked into full speed, giving her headway again. She was steered back into the wind and was able to make her way home.

“By this time the landing craft had already beached at Dungeness.

The crew on the night of the capsize were Ned Adams, Fred White, Charlie Haste, Bill Martin, Tom Adams, Jum Adams, Frank Edmunds and Dougie White. These were all experienced fishermen who had the greatest respect for the sea and the dangers it posed.

“They say a lifeboatman must be brave, courageous, fearless and one hundred percent water-proof.”

Dee Day and Tush Hamilton have been responsible for sourcing the boat and returning her from a boatyard in France back to Hastings. Thye have been supported by their wives Bev and Pat.

The lifeboat was active off the coast of Hastings in the 1930’s, saving dozens of lives, before being requisitioned for the Dunkirk evacuations, where she earned her nickname The Ghost of Dunkirk.

Securing the boat took nine months of phone calls and many miles of travelling to France.

Dee Day said: “Restoration on the boat has already started and donations can be sent to the Treasurer, 4 All Saints Crescent, Hastings TN 35 5PD or at Santander Bank Account Number 49444310, Sort Code 09-01-28. There are also collecting boxes in most Hastings Old Town pubs.

“We are working on a figure of around £15,000 to put her in a new dock in the Bourne, given to us by Hastings Borough Council. You can also visit the website www.the-boat.co.uk or East Hastings Sea Angling Association, where the lifeboat is on display.

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