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St Ives lifeboat crew who gave lives are honoured

St Ives lifeboat crew who gave lives are honoured

Published by Sarah Yeoman at 1:06pm 23rd January 2020. (Updated at 4:02pm 23rd January 2020)

Tributes are being paid to the brave lifeboat men from St Ives who gave their lives trying to rescue unknown sailors at sea.

It has been 81 years since the John and Sarah Eliza Stych was thrown onto rocks in a vicious storm.

The lifeboat was on a shout during a violent gale to rescue an unknown vessel back in 1939.

Distress signals were reported a mile out to sea shortly after midnight, with wind speeds of up to 100mph.

St Ives lifeboat disaster

What happened that tragic night?

It took more than 80 volunteer men and women to launch the lifeboat from St. Ives Point at 3am.

Coxswain Thomas Cocking was in command of an eight man crew, including volunteer Will Freeman, who took the place of a crew member who hadn't heard the sound of the maroons because of the wind, to serve aboard a lifeboat for the very first time. St Ives had not replaced their lifeboat which was lost the previous and therefore had Padstow's on loan.

The lifeboat had only travelled a mile or two before disaster struck. Despite coxswain Cocking's best efforts the gale took control and a huge wave capsized the lifeboat. She was able to self-right but when she re-appeared four of the crew including the coxswain had vanished. Two others were clinging onto rope grips on the side of the boat and managed to haul themselves back onboard.

With a crew of four they had no other choice than to turn back, but further tragedy was still to come. The gale had torn the sail to tatters and the propeller had been damaged leaving the four remaining crew at the mercy of the sea. Exhausted, they managed to launch a red flare which was seen from the town, but the horrendous conditions meant it was impossible for anyone to help. A huge wave capsized the lifeboat for a second time.

For a second time the lifeboat self righted herself but they had lost another man who had been swept overboard. The remaining three crew members were clinging as best they could to the battered lifeboat, as every attempt to make it back to the safety of the shore was thwarted by the storm.

A huge wave lifted the lifeboat and the slammed her down on the water, as she capsized for a third time and self-righted once again, the lifeboat was thrown onto the rocks. This time leaving sole survivor, Will Freeman, the man who was aboard a lifeboat for the first time.

When the storm subsided the remains of the vessel the lifeboat launched to, SS Wilton, was found washed up on the shore with no survivors of the 30 man crew. 

St Ives lifeboat disaster

Will Freeman passed away on January 23rd 1979 exactly 40 years to the day of that fateful night.

Bronze Medals were awarded to William Freeman and posthumously to Coxswain Thomas Cocking, Matthew Barber, William Barber, Richard Stevens, John Cocking, John Thomas, and Edgar Bassett.

Rob Cocking, whose great grandfather and great uncle lost their lives in the disaster, has been coxswain of St Ives' lifeboat since 2015. 

He continued a long family tradition when he took on the role, following them, his father and brother.

"These men were local St Ives men. they went out in the most appalling weather conditions regardless of what could happen and what the outcome would be. They went out to save the lives of others - and in doing so tragically and selflessly lost their own lives. 

"Every one of those men should be remembered always for what they gave and sacrificed that night. I know that I will always remember what they gave, and I hope as time goes on, we always take time to remember the ultimate sacrifice."

St Ives lifeboat coxswain, Rob Cocking

St Ives' current lifeboat fleet includes the D class lifeboat and the Shannon, the latest class of all-weather lifeboat. The Shannon is the first modern all-weather lifeboat to be propelled by waterjets instead of traditional propellers, making her our most agile and manoeuvrable all-weather lifeboat yet. It was designed entirely in-house, with the safety and welfare of our crews a key priority in its development.

Alongside it, a new faster and safer launch and recovery system was designed to make sure the lifeboat can safely get back to shore, no matter what the conditions.

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