Location: Aldeburgh, Suffolk
The Aldeburgh Lifeboat Disaster - 7 December 1899
On Thursday 7 December 1899, at 11am, rockets were fired summoning the crew of the lifeboat “Aldeburgh” after signals of distress had been heard in the heavy storm.
The lifeboat was launched but it struggled to clear the shoals. The sea was so high that after a particularly heavy wave striking its broadside, the boat capsized, turning upside down, and came to rest on the beach.
Of the 18 crew, 12 managed to make it back to the beach, but six were trapped in the overturned hull. One of them, James Miller Ward junior was washed out from under the boat and although efforts were made to revive him it was futile.
Hundreds of men tried to raise the boat to get to the other men but without success. After three hours, a hole was smashed through the hull, but the other five men were dead. It was nearly six o’clock before the boat could be raised with levers to free the last body. And one of those that did make it back to the beach later died from the injuries he sustained.
The crew members who lost their lives that day were:
- Charles Alfred CRISP, aged 51, recently widowed, father of six
- Herbert William ‘Dogger’ DOWNING, aged 23
- James Miller WARD junior, aged 21, married with one daughter and a son on the way
- John Pearce BUTCHER, aged 52, married with children
- Thomas ‘Tom’ MORRIS, aged 36
- Walter George WARD, aged 33, married with two children, a boy and a girl
The crew member, rescued from the sea but who later died from his injuries was:
- Allen Arthur EASTER, aged 28,
A memorial to the disaster is sited in the graveyard at the Church of St. Peter and St. Paul. It bears the following inscription:
On December 7th 1899, in response to signals of distress, a crew of 18 brave men manned the lifeboat “Aldeburgh” which was speedily launched in the teeth of an easterly gale and a heavy rolling sea. At duties call to rescue others with their own lives in their hands, these brave men went afloat, when alas! the boat capsizing seven of them met their end and lie buried here. By a large fund promptly raised to provide for those suddenly bereft, as well as by the monument, fellow townsmen and fellow countrymen near and far paid tribute to an example of noble self-forgetfulness.
There are seven crosses marking the individual graves of the six men who died at the time of the disaster, and the seventh who died of his injuries over 3 months later.
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