The rescue of James Bonney

PUBLISHED: 13:52 06 August 2009 | UPDATED: 14:37 03 July 2010

EVEN the Mercury has inadvertently published the very occasional mistake, despite the stringent checking and double-checking of every story. But today could well be the first time it has printed a correction 75 years late!

Three-quarters of a century ago we reported on the rescue of 13-year-old schoolboy James Bonney, who was being swept by the tide around the spur breakwater at Gorleston.

EVEN the Mercury has inadvertently published the very occasional mistake, despite the stringent checking and double-checking of every story. But today could well be the first time it has printed a correction 75 years late!

Three-quarters of a century ago we reported on the rescue of 13-year-old schoolboy James Bonney, who was being swept by the tide around the spur breakwater at Gorleston. A truncated version was one of the items gleaned from the Mercury for inclusion in Great Yarmouth 1886-1936, a continuation of Crisp's history of our town compiled in 1977 by members of the archaelogical society.

Last month, surveying 1934, I included the Bonney rescue, quoting from the book that “pilot boat crewman Bertie Beavers and Sgt Frank Page - probably a policeman - were swift to act. Mr Beavers flung a lifebelt to him, and Sgt Page leapt fully dressed into the rough water jointly to save his life.”

That account has now been challenged by Tony Mallion, ex-Mercury chief reporter and retired BBC Radio Norfolk presenter, who assures me that “it was my grandfather, Bertie Beavers, who jumped in to rescue Jimmy Bonney from drowning, rather than just throwing in a lifebelt. My mum (Bertie's daughter) had in fact only been talking about it the other day.

“She remembers so clearly being at home in Upper Cliff Road. Her mother, Leah Beavers, was doing some washing in the middle of the morning when Granddad unexpectedly returned home, soaking wet. She was no doubt not pleased that he was dripping all over the place! Not only had he walked home from the harbour and up the White Lion steps in soaking wet clothes but his trousers were in danger of falling down. The crowd who had gathered were so impressed by what he did, jumping in to rescue young Jimmy,

that they organised an immediate collection for him. But the coins were so heavy in his pocket that it was hard for him to keep his trousers up!”

Tony's mother, Vera, of Nile Road, confirms: “I was on the beach at the time when I saw Daddy jump into the water and the other gent throw a lifebelt. As a sort of thank-you, little Jimmy used to drop a packet of Woodbines (cigarettes) for Daddy through our door every week.”

I put this version to one of the book's compilers, wondering why the incident had been misreported... to which he replied that it was culled from the Mercury and must have been our mistake in the first place. I think the error came in transcribing the Mercury report for the history book, but, if it was our fault, then we apologise - albeit 75 years late.

In 1934 the herring industry was enduring a turbulent time. When 1933

ended, no fewer than 120,000 barrels of East Anglian cured herring remained unsold, 70,000 of them at Yarmouth. Exports had amounted to 172,000 barrels, 7,000 fewer than 1932. Norford Suffling put six of its drifters up for sale but received no offer. That autumn, there was a great crisis due to heavy landings, resulting in the price of a cran being cut to below the minimum of £1. Drifters were prevented from entering the harbour so as not to exacerbate the situation.

The crew of the Yarmouth drifter, East Holme (YH22), had a narrow escape when she collided with the Danish steamer, Paragon. The rescued crew were later transferred to the drifter Vesta. Four years earlier, the East Holme was in the news for she was inspected by the Prince of Wales (later, King Edward VIII and the Duke of Windsor) when he visited Yarmouth to open the new Haven Bridge and see the fishing fleet. But, while the herring fishery was in turmoil, one drifterman was able to distance himself from the problems suffered by the crews. Donald Rudd, of Winterton, engineer on the Radiant Rose, drew Windsor Lad in the Irish Sweepstake on the Derby and won £30,000 - the equivalent today of about £1.5m!

Three minesweepers - HMS Albury, Dunoon and Sutton - visited the port for the 24th anniversary of the accession of King George V and were dressed overall with bunting. Yarmouth sea cadet bugler John Thrower had the honour of sounding Fall In and Sunset and was commended by the leader of the flotilla, Cmdr H Acland. Other 1934 visitors included Sir Alan Cobham with his Flying Circus and airwoman Joan Melkan - “the loop-the-loop glider girl”.

An ambitious week-long town carnival and pageant included a re-enactment on the Jetty of King Richard II landing there in 1382. The 450-year-old structure is in the news these days because part of it could be removed while ways of saving the rest are examined.

Fruit and vegetable merchants D & H McCarthy advertised seed potatoes at 6s 6d (about 32p today) to 8s (40p) a hundredweight depending on the variety.

Mr and Mrs W E Mayes celebrated their golden wedding: not only was he manager of the ironworks at Runham Vauxhall but he was a celebrated artist who concentrated on painting local rivers and Broadland scenery in watercolours.

Seven thousand patients were treated at the General Hospital in Deneside the previous year, making it apparent that the building was inadequate for its requirements.

Green bowlers decided at a special meeting to form an EBA club. The gathering at the King's Arms public house was conducted by chairman George Bales. Other officers elected to steer the club into its inaugural year were: president, E V Barr; vice-presidents, Fred Debbage,

F Johnson, J Bell, J Brough,

F Farrow, A J Ecclestone and A Stacey.

Plans were passed for an automatic telephone exchange on the site of the old Star Hotel on Hall Quay, with equipment to handle 5,000 lines. The exchange was closed a few years ago. The corporation bus livery was changed from maroon and cream to light blue and cream. Tramlines were lifted from Northgate Street, the west side of the Market Place, Theatre Plain, Regent Street and King Street.

I am indebted for the basic information on which today's column relies to two local history books: the continuation of Crisp's Chronology covering the years 1886-1936, compiled by Bill Ecclestone and Yarmouth Archaelogical Society in 1977, and John McBride's A Diary of Great Yarmouth, published in 1998.

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