Remembering sacrifice and courage

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The lifeboat under sail

At this time of the year, in particular, the thoughts of the people of Rye Harbour Village turn to the events of November 1928.

‘That morn, a boy on Camber beach the Mary Stanford saw,
capsized by such a mighty wave as she came back to shore,
So he ran to tell his father and the dismal news was spread:
It’s no more the boathouse, or the lifeboat, all the crew is lost.
Brave crewmen put their duty first and reckoned not the cost.’
The Mary Stanford shanty

Cecil Marchant

On the fifteenth, early in the morning, the maroons went off to call the crew of the Mary Stanford to the boathouse for a launch to go to the aid of a stricken vessel, the SS Alice, off Dungeness. The lifeboat launched in the teeth of a mighty storm which was to cause the death of all seventeen crew-members. It remains the worst such loss of life in the history of the RNLI.

The moment of the Mary Stanford’s eventual capsizing was witnessed later that morning by a fifteen-year old boy, Cecil Edwin Marchant, on Camber beach. He ran to tell his parents, who had a shop and social club in Camber village, but was not at first believed. The lifeboat capsized? No survivors? Surely not!

The news spread quickly and people ran onto the beach to see if they could help, but to no avail. In later years Cecil went on to drive HGVs for local firm Jempson’s and for the East Kent Bus company. His part in the Mary Stanford story is recognised in Camber by a road named in his honour – Marchant’s Close.

This year, because of current restrictions, there can be no service of remembrance at the Church of the Holy Spirit in the Harbour: no lighting of candles or singing of hymns. But in the hearts and minds of villagers, and particularly amongst the volunteers of the current lifeboat station, there will be remembrance and pride.

It is clear from the passion and commitment of today’s lifeboat crew, training hard through this year of lockdowns and restrictions, that the Mary Stanford tradition of courage and selflessness in the service of saving lives at sea continues unchecked.

Mary Stanford is hauled ashore after she capsized

Image Credits: RNLI , Photo by Frank Rust/Associated Newspapers/REX (1804367a) .

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