When the Seaham Lifeboat broached and capsized just 30 yards from the shore, nine people drowned. Tomorrow – 50 years to the day – volunteers based at Sunderland, Tynemouth, and Hartlepool Royal National Lifeboat Institution [RNLI] stations will join together to take part in a memorial service to mark the 50th anniversary of the Seaham Lifeboat Disaster.
At 3.00pm on Saturday afternoon (17 November) volunteers from the three stations will come together along with family members of both the lifeboat crew and fishing vessel Economy outside of Seaham harbour to take part in a short memorial service before laying wreaths at sea in memory of their fallen colleagues.
Shortly before half past five on the evening of 17th November 1962 all five crewmembers (John Miller – Coxswain, Frederick Gippert – Second Coxswain , Arthur L. Brown – Mechanic, James Farrington – Bowman, Arthur Brown – Crew) onboard the Seaham Lifeboat lost their lives when the lifeboat George Elmy was capsized by two huge waves. At the time she was just 30 yards from Seaham Harbour’s South Pier after rescuing four crewmembers and a nine-year-old boy who were on board the fishing boat ‘Economy’ which had foundered in stormy seas off Dawdon Colliery.
The young boy, David Burrell, and three of the fishermen – Gordon Burrell, George Firth and Joseph Kennedy – also died. The only survivor of the tragic accident was the fourth member of the fishing boat’s crew, David’s father Donald, who was washed ashore clinging to the propeller shafts of the upturned lifeboat.
The five lifeboat crewmembers are amongst the 806 people who feature on the RNLI Memorial which was formally unveiled in September 2009 and is located outside the RNLI College on the charity’s HQ site in Poole. It is a poignant reminder of the extraordinary self-sacrifice of people who have lost their lives at sea while rescuing others. Alongside the names of RNLI crew members are volunteers from lifeboats pre-dating the creation of the charity in 1824. The RNLI Memorial also features the names of people from other organisations involved with the charity, who have lost their lives at sea while saving others.
Designed by sculptor Sam Holland, the Memorial is more than 4.5m high and depicts a person in a boat saving another from the water. It is inscribed with the motto of the RNLI’s founder, Sir William Hilary: ‘With courage, nothing is impossible’.
Paul Nicholson, Senior Helmsman at Sunderland RNLI said: “It will be a very emotional but important moment for the current RNLI volunteers to join the families to remember those who were lost at sea fifty years ago during that fateful night at Seaham Harbour. We all look forward to the moment when we are able to escort the restored George Elmy back into Seaham as a permanent reminder to the sacrifice that our colleagues gave half a century ago.”
In May 2009 East Durham Heritage Group began a project to return the original lifeboat to Seaham and restore her into her former glory after one of their members spotted the boat for sale on internet website ‘EBay’. Once restored the boat will return to Seaham Harbour where it will be housed within the restored 1870’s boat house at Seaham North Dock marina.
For further information regarding the progress of the restoration project go to http://www.seahamlifeboats.oneuk.com/