HMHS Rohilla
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The Story Of The Stanley Over Again

The news we were able to publish in our first War Special yesterday (Says the Shields Gazette) that the remainder of the survivors had been taken off the wrecked hospital ship Rohilla, at Whitby, would be received with a sigh of relief throughout the North East coast. For we had all followed, with mingled sympathy and horror, the terrible story of the wreck of that good ship, while on her errand of mercy, and the ordeal through which her crew and passengers were called to pass. Many of us know the spot at which she met her fate, one of the most dangerous, if not the most dangerous on the whole of this iron bound coast. On the one side a reef of rocks running far out to sea rendered difficult and arduous any attempt at rescue by sea from Whitby. Landward, cliffs towered to a height of 250 ft, with at there base only a narrow-strip of land, and this at it's northern end, approached from Whitby only over a mass of rocks and boulders.

These facts explain how it was that for more than fifty hours, the survivors were left clinging on the wreck, within sight, almost within reach, of hundreds of agonised spectators. It was the story of the Stanley over again, only that the action was longer drawn out, for two long days and two longer nights of wild weather intervened between the wreck and the final rescue. That rescue was only rendered possible by the heroism of the master and crew of the Tynemouth Lifeboat who made the perilous nine hours journey through heavy seas and tempestuous weather to effect the rescue. The loss of life is greater than at first believed, since the Rohilla was carrying not 180 but over 220 souls, and therefore about eighty must have perished. They have died in the service of their country as surely as those-happily very few-who went down with the Hermes on Saturday, The fine and even dramatic work of rescues affords another illustration, if illustration were needed, of the value of the motor lifeboat. The Tyne boat first demonstrated her possibilities in bad weather in the now historic run to Blyth.

But yesterdays feat displayed even greater necessity for keeping at sea in rough weather and a considerably extended radius of section. It ought not, however, to be necessary for a motor lifeboat to have to make such a long trip when her services are needed as is involved in the fifty odd miles from Tynemouth to the scene of the wreck. Just as the loss of the Stanley, to which we have already referred, lead to the formation of volunteer life brigades all round our coast so we hope the good service rendered by the Henry Vernon yesterday morning will lead to the establishment of a fleet of motor lifeboats round the coasts of the United Kingdom. These should be one at least every twenty miles or so. The weekends experience suggests that Whitby should be one of the first places so provide. It is no reflection, of course, on either the courage or seamanship of our gallant lifeboat men to propose such an innovation. No one who has watch, the oar-propelled lifeboat struggling out in the teeth of a storm, beaten back again and again, crawling forward, inch by inch, at the price of exhaustion of her human propellers, but must have wished that it was possible to provide a more powerful means of propulsion, and to save the strength of the crew for the trying work of rescue when the wreck is reached. This the Henry Vernon has shown to be possible, and it only remains for the public to place a duplicate of that now famous boat at as many points on the coast as possible.

Copyright © Colin Brittain 1999 - 2014