England, Genealogy

Plucky Police Constable

On the 26th December 1912, the SS Tripolitania, a steam cargo ship from Italy on its voyage from Genoa to Barry Wales for coal, had beached on the Loe Bar, near Porthleven in Cornwall England. The weather had been and was still a vicious South Westerly gale with 100 mph winds, rain, huge churning waves and blowing sand which made it difficult to see anything.

One of the first men on that beach, waiting for the RNLI (Royal National Lifeboat Institution) to arrive and assist, was the local Police Constable, (PC) Francis Bulford – my future grandfather. He could clearly see the crew on the vessel’s deck as the bow dashed onto the sand and heaved up and crashed down again and again.

Police Constable Number 106, Francis Bulford

The wreck had the sea on one side of her, and Loe Bar on the other side. The Loe bar is a half mile wide shingle bank – also referred to as a rocky beach or pebble beach – which separates the Loe, the largest natural fresh water lake in Cornwall, from the sea.  Loe Bar was originally the mouth of the River Cober which led to a harbour in Helston. However, by the 13th century, the bar had cut Helston off from the sea and formed the pool.

Loe Bar 1993 Aerial View Helston Museum.org

Loe Bar has a well-earned reputation for being treacherous and over the years several lives have been lost. The combination of powerful waves, a steep slippery shingle bank and vicious currents make it a very dangerous stretch of beach, and there is a local rumour that a freak wave here claims a life every seven years. At the end of the day, the best advice is to heed the signs and don’t even think about swimming here. [1]

On that day after Christmas, 1912, the steamship SS. Tripolitania was still rising and trying to ground in the violent weather. PC Bulford could just make out a  rope hanging over her starboard bow. Then, to his horror, he saw a deck hand start to slide down the rope.

He shouted to him ‘Wait a bit’! intending to let the boat properly ground before attempting a rescue, but the crew member either not hearing in the loud gale winds, or not understanding English, slid down the rope and dropped onto his hands and knees, into the surf.  At that very moment, an enormous wave lifted the steamer, swept around the port bow and rushed back, bringing with it the sailor who was swept against the ships’ side and disappeared. “I should not be surprised in the least if his body is recovered, that it is found he was killed by being caught under the steamer’s bilges” said PC Bulford when interviewed later. [2]

The rest of the crew remained aboard until the steamer was properly grounded. By that time villagers and the RNLI crew from the Penlee Lifeboat had joined the PC. Together, they all ran out and grabbed the crew by the hands, to lead them to safety.

The Steamship SS Tripolitania grounding on Loe Bar 26 December 1912 PHOTO

Photo © Of the late W.F. Ivey and Graham Matthews (Grandson of W.F. Ivey) [3]

By this time, the beach sand was saturated with sea water and the rescuers’ feet were sucked down.  Meanwhile, the wind was blowing and tossing so much sand into eyes and mouths they could barely see. The rescuers placed handkerchiefs over their own mouths and the crewmembers’ mouths and dragged and pushed and pulled everyone to safety.

The Cornish Times – below – stated, that “Life-saving apparatus arrived soon after the SS Tripolitania struck, but their services were not required”

That day, the 28 members of the crew were saved but one, and his body was never recovered. In addition, two of the crew of the brave Penlee Penzance Royal National Lifeboat Institution, Janet Hoyle, died of pneumonia the following Thursday. [6] All these men were volunteers.  See notes below.

 

SS. Tripolitania The Calm After The Storm [4]

Once the storm was over, attempts were made to refloat the ship, by removing much of the shingle from the seaward side, but they failed. She was eventually scrapped in situ.

 

Digging out the SS Tripolitania PHOTO

Photo © Of the late W.F. Ivey and Graham Matthews (Grandson of W.F. Ivey) [5]

By the way, the meaning of the word ‘Abaft’ above, which I took to be a typing error means according to the Oxford Dictionary, “In or behind the stern of a ship” It is a nautical adverb. Plucky’ is an adjective meaning “Having or showing determined courage in the face of difficulties” Francis Bulford born 28 October 1884 died 25 March 1963 was my plucky Grandfather. RIP.

Follow this link to read another story of my Grandfather here:

/https://genealogyensemble.com/2018/10/10/all-in-a-days-work/

SOURCES:

[1] https://www.visitcornwall.com/beaches/west-cornwall/helston/loe-bar-beach

[2] Cornish Times Newspaper Clipping. In Possession Of The Bulford Family Archives

[3, 4, 5 ] http://www.helstonhistory.co.uk/w-f-iveys-shipwrecks/tripolitania/

[6] http://www.rnli-penleelifeboat.org.uk/About%20us/PastCoxswains

NOTES:

William Nicholls – Coxswain 1912-1915

Mr William Nicholls was appointed Coxswain on 3rd July 1912 and was the Coxswain of 2 reserve Penzance lifeboats. William was instrumental in the choice of the Janet Hoyle from the shipyard.

During his time on the Janet Hoyle, she launched twice in service, the first being an extremely dangerous mission to the SS TRIPOLITANIA on boxing day 1912.

In a letter, dated September 1959, Coxswain William NICHOLLS recalls the launch to S.S.TRIPOLITANIA as follows:

“My most arduous lifeboat service took place in 1912. On Boxing Day, at 8.00 am, the Coastguard called at my house in Penzance. He brought a message that a steamer was drifting disabled across the Bay. Neither the Sennen or Newlyn boats could go out, and so the message was passed to me. A strong gale (100 m.p.h) was raging; shop fronts at Penzance were blown in and boats overturned in the harbour, Penzance Pier Head being under water. At 8.30 the boat was in the water, all reefs taken in, and away. I have often thought of the appearance of the Bay when I rounded the pier head. The seas were pitiless, and the first one aboard completely filled the boat. I remember thinking that this was my last trip! I thrashed about 8 miles, opening up all the Western land, and then, seeing nothing of the ship, came about, and edged towards Porthleven, where the broken sea was worse. I was, from there, signalled by green rocket to ‘recall’  The vessel, S.S. TRIPOLITANIA, had gone ashore on Loe Bar, near Porthleven; and to judge the height of the seas, she was thrown at dead low water to twenty feet above high water. She remained there for years until broken up for scrap. There were only two lifeboats afloat on that day, my own, and the Plymouth boat, which was blown ashore in Jennycliff Bay inside the breakwater. The stemhead of my boat split from the planking, and the lovely paintwork smashed in spots into the drab first coat. She looked like a spotted leopard. Two of my men died on the following Thursday from pneumonia, which shows the terrible conditions we had to face on that service.”

 

 

 

 

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