Dramatic first-hand account of how miracle saved capsized Hastings Lifeboat

SUS-180316-092819001
SUS-180316-092819001

The story of how a Hastings lifeboat capsized in stormy seas has been fully revealed 74 years after it happened and was covered up.

The incident happened during the Second World War when the Cyril and Lilian Bishop went to the aid of a landing craft caught in a storm while making its way down the Channel.

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Here is the concluding part of a dramatic first-hand account from lifeboatman Charlie Haste, who was on board when the boat went over.

He said: “The boat was still being swept by seas as we lay drifting, broadside on.

“Those aft had started messing about with the engine, grinding the handle, trying this and that, but it would not start.

“They shouted to me to get the anchor over and get her head to sea. This was not easy, what with being half-drowned and weak as a rat.

All the latchings that were holding down the anchor were new and had shrunk where we couldn’t get them undone.

“After some time we did get the anchor over, but it had about two fathoms of big chain between the anchor and the cable, which had a big thimble on the end. This thimble jammed in the hawehole forward. Nobody could get up there to clear it. We didn’t know what to do, we were knocking broadside on toward the shore.

“Then we had a bit of luck - they happened to get the engine started, but only at about a quarter speed. She would not go any faster.

“We got her head onto the wind and sea and she just went ahead.

“The we found the steering wasn’t working. When the wheel was centre, the blade of the rudder was 45 degrees to one side.

“What happened was that when the boat was upside down the blade the blade ran up the square to the top of the stern post. When she came upright, it came down on the wrong square.

Now the anchor was swinging about under the water. Every time she went up on a sea. Sometimes it was banging up under the bottom.

“After a long time, and about 100 tries, I got the anchor fixed to her side.

“Just after that there came a Grandaddy of a sea. The boat went down backward under the sea, up to the canopy, then started to go over.

“I was forward with Dick Harffey and Frank Edmonds, hanging on to everything we could find. We were looking straight down toward aft - or where it should be. She was going down stern first and nearly half of her was under the water. I thought she was going over again.

“Then a miracle happened. That shake-up had woken up the engine. She jumped on full speed. What I didn’t know was that in the fuel system there was a ball to shut the fuel off when she goes over. Well this time the ball must have shit the fuel off and only partly opened when she came upright again.

“Well we steered her into the wind and sea for a long time. She seemed to be a lot better now the engine was ok.

“Well we got ashore alright and wasn’t I glad too. A couple of days afterwards we took the lifeboat to Shoreham for a re-fit.

“I thought that was the end of it, but for months and years afterwards, every time we got a breeze of wind in the old RX2 and she threw her side down I could feel her going right over. I used to go hot and cold and shake like a leaf.

“The landing craft we had gone after had gone ashore at Dungeness and the crew were in a pub at Hastings - if only we’d had a wireless.”

The crew on board the Cyril and Lilian Bishop Lifeboat that day, along with Charlie Haste (bowman), were Ned Adams (cox), Fred White (second cox) Bill Martin (engineer), Tom Adams, Doug White, Frank Edmonds and Jim Adams.

The lifeboat, which played a key role in rescuing stranded troops from the beaches of Dunkirk, is now on display outside All Saints Church.

See also: Read the first part of the story of the lifeboat capsize
See also: Hastings Lifeboat capsize was covered up
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