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Tales of Fishermen's courage

PUBLISHED: 15:28 11 December 2008 | UPDATED: 12:31 03 July 2010

Some of the fishermen who braved the seas

Some of the fishermen who braved the seas

MY late mother, a gentle soul married to a Great Yarmouth drifterman, used to become moist-eyed whenever she heard the hymn Eternal Father, Strong to Save, or the rich baritone of Peter Dawson urging listeners to remember that while they were snug beneath warm blankets, "The Fishermen of England are riding out the storm".

MY late mother, a gentle soul married to a Great Yarmouth drifterman, used to become moist-eyed whenever she heard the hymn Eternal Father, Strong to Save, or the rich baritone of Peter Dawson urging listeners to remember that while they were snug beneath warm blankets, “The Fishermen of England are riding out the storm”.

Family legend has it that, before my time, she took exception to a holidaymaker on North Drive voicing relief that a severe thunderstorm has passed out to sea, telling her that whereas she had been able to shelter from it, mariners had no place to hide.

Even though progress has meant that calamities at sea have been drastically reduced, thank goodness, no doubt the wives and families of those whose living is made on the unpredictable waters continue to worry and wait at home for information about their safety, although today's communications usually mean news travels faster.

Exactly a century ago, Yarmouth - hardened as it was to maritime tragedy - suffered a double blow in 1908 when two local fishing boats were wrecked within a few days, with the loss of five lives. The first casualty was the Boys Own, swamped in a violent gale and raging seas that swept men overboard, three drowning including the skipper's 18-year-old son on his maiden voyage; there were two survivors.

The borough was still reeling from that calamity when the Maggie May grounded in dense fog and heavy swell on a sandbank off Lowestoft. As the tide rose inexorably, higher than the funnel, all ten hands clung to the upper rigging - drenched to the skin and freezing with cold. “Their sufferings throughout that night may be better imagined than described,” reported the Mercury. “They shouted till they were hoarse but their cries were not heard until they had been clinging to the rigging for 11 hours, stiff with wet and cold.”

After some hours, two of the crew could hold on no longer, and perished.

The weather had improved before dawn when the Maggie May's plight was spotted by a passing brigantine, the Aurora, of Montrose, and a small boat took exhausted men off the mizzen and foremast, the distressed sailors having to time their leap into the rolling rescue craft. At that stage it was realised that two were missing.

Fifty years later, the Yarmouth Mercury reported in 1958 on a plucky young lad involved in attempts to save people from drowning.

Ten-year-old Ian Hunt, of Reedham, was commended at an inquest for his calm and the part he played in the rescue of a holidaymaker who fell into the River Yare from a capsized dinghy, and his unsuccessful efforts to save another man who drowned. This son of Reedham river inspector Mr J Hunt was said by police at the inquest to have “displayed coolness despite his tender years”.

Fifteen-year-old Anthony Dale, of Northgate Street, Yarmouth, was waiting outside a White Horse Plain shop when masses of tiles and rubble suddenly broke away from the roof and crashed down on to the footpath and roadway. He narrowly escaped serious injury by flinging himself into a shop doorway as the debris rained down.

The avalanche brought down a shop blind and damaged his cycle and that of his 11-year-old pal David Phillips, of Palgrave Road. The roofs affected were those of H E Utting's general store, the post office and the Northgate Drug Company.

Also in 1958, the new Missions to Seaman institute on South Quay was opened, its first permanent premises in the port having been bombed in 1941. The organisation had worked in Yarmouth for a century.

Another new building to replace one destroyed was the Britannia Pier Theatre, four years after a disastrous blaze. The summer show launching the £100,000 amenity starred Nat Jackley, Stan Stennett and Joan Turner.

Scroby Sands was “almost crowded,” according to the Mercury. On one summer day, the usual seals and birds were visited by naturalists, anglers, yachtsmen and radio amateurs, all the visits coincidental and unconnected.

Gorleston promenade was the centre of a controversy when objections were lodged to a plan by Frank Cole to site a Peter Pan railway and children's roundabout near the yacht pond. The borough council had approved the idea, but the objections resulted in a public inquiry fronted by a Ministry of Housing and Local Government inspector.

The bandstand in the Wellington Pier gardens was demolished, the head of the company doing the work - G A Easter, of Norwich - taking the steel for scrap or reuse. Military bands and others played in the circular bandstand between the wars, but more recently it was a dressing room and store for the new outdoor roller skating rink.

The bandstand was removed because the gardens were being redeveloped, and attractions for the summer of 1958 included the Guinness clock with its famous animations of characters from its advertisements on the quarter-hours.

Norfolk humorist Sidney Grapes, a major figure in the life of his home village of Potter Heigham, died at 70. He was the writer of The Boy John Letters in Norfolk dialect, a contributor to our sister newspaper, the Eastern Daily Press, for many years, and also a parish church chorister and warden, and an authority on local lore.

For his Boy John character, he wore a traditional smock.

A cash crisis hit Yarmouth Town Football Club - it needed £1500 immediately to survive, chairman Mr Percy Elton told its annual meeting, appealing to all local sportsmen to contribute to ensure it could play the following season, its 62nd. Income had dropped and gates were down.

To help cut costs, the Bloaters went all-amateur for the 1958-59 season. By the start of that season, the club was out of the red.

Across the river, Gorleston FC was also in trouble, having lost £385 while climbing the league. Public apathy was deplored.

Another sport to make Mercury headlines in 1958 was cricket when Mr G L Newport, chairman of the Coronation Cup 20-over competition, was scathing about the council's “unfair” new pitch hire charges, pointing out it cost as much for a two and a-half hour match as for an all-day one.

Reigning Open golf champion Bobby Locke played an exhibition round of 68 at the Yarmouth and Caister course.

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