Crew of Mary Stanford will be Remembered

THE 17 men who lost their lives on the ill-fated Mary Stanford Lifeboat will be honoured on Sunday when the annual service of rememberence takes place at Rye Harbour Church.

The service, which is held at 3pm, will be followed by wreath laying at the mary Stanford Memorial in the churchyard.

Taking part in the service will be local dignataries, members of service organisations , Rye Sea Cadets andthe current crew of the Rye Harbour Lifeboat.

The capsizing of the Mary Stanford Lifeboat, with the loss of all 17 of her crew, had a devastating effect on the close knit Rye Harbour community and remains the worst disaster in the history of the RNLI.

It took place on November 15 1928 when the Mary Stanford launched in heavy seas to go to the aid of the stricken ship Alice of Riga, which was carrying a cargo of bricks.

The lifeboat, which was powered by oars, launched, at around 4.55am, in a south-west gale in winds of up to 80mph.

News was received that the crew of the Alice had been rescued by another vessel and the recall signal was fired three times.

Apparently the crew of the Lifeboat had not seen it. As the Lifeboat was coming into harbour she was seen to capsize, off the coast at Camber and the whole of the crew perished.

The body of the youngest crew member, John Head, aged 17, was never recovered.

At around 9am the mate of the S.S. Halton saw the Lifeboat 3 miles (2 km) W.S.W from Dungeness and all appeared well.

The Lifeboat was also seen by a boy sailor on the Smyrna a bit later on. About 10.30 a young lad, Cecil Marchant, collecting drift wood at Camber saw the Lifeboat capsize.

As he looked out to sea he saw it happen in a bright ray of sunlight.

On Tuesday 20 November the funeral was held. 15 of the crew were buried in a communal grave on that day.

When Henry Cutting’s body was found at Eastbourne three months later, it was bought back home to be interred in the communal grave with his fellow crew members. Sadly, John Head’s body was never recovered.

Hundreds of mourners from all over the country attended the funeral.

Members of the Latvian Government were among the dignitaries present, recognising that the men had lost their lives going to the assistance of a Latvian Vessel.

The crew of the Mary Stanford had grown up together, worked and laughed together and were buried together.

The Board of Trade Court of Enquiry sat at Rye Town Hall on 19, 20 and 21 December and the following 1, 2 and 4 January and after all their deliberation the court finally announced:

“As there were no survivors of the crew, the cause of the Lifeboat capsizing is a matter of conjecture.

From the evidence available we are of the opinion that whilst attempting to make the Harbour on a strong flood tide and in high and dangerous breaking sea, she was suddenly capsized and the crew were thrown into the water, two men being entangled under the boat.

The broken water and heavy surf caused the loss of the crew”.