95 years ago a tragedy rocked Rye Harbour


Each year, a week after Remembrance Sunday in Rye, the villagers of Rye Harbour gather at their church to honour the crew of the Mary Stanford lifeboat. During a dreadful storm on November 15 1928, the seventeen-man RNLI volunteer crew responded to a call for help from a stricken vessel off Dungeness. As it turned out, they were not needed, and a recall was sent but did not arrive in time: no-one in the boat saw the maroon and off they sailed into treacherous seas. Whilst trying to return many hours later, the boat capsized and not one of the seventeen survived. For the descendants of the crew of 1928 this service is an important time to honour their bravery and pay their respects.

During the Memorial Service a particularly poignant moment is when a candle is lit in memory of each crewman by a direct descendant, many still living in the village. The Mary Stanford Shanty written by Martin Bruce for his shanty group, Rye Harbour Herrings, is sung and its plaintive notes hang heavy in the air, bringing many people to tears.

“That morn a boy on Camber beach the Mary Stanford saw,
Capsiz’d 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 lifeboat or the boathouse – all the crew is lost.
Brave crewmen put their duty first and reckoned not the cost.”

Mary Stanford Memorial Service

After the service is completed, everyone moves outside to the lifeboat memorial in which the sixteen recovered crew-men are buried: John Stanley Head was never found. A single red rose laid on each name by current members of RNLI Rye Harbour lifeboat station acknowledges the continuing tradition of service and sacrifice. In the silence there is time for reflection and gratitude.

Today’s lifeboat station proudly maintains the values exemplified by these brave men who put their duty before all else.

Image Credits: RNLI Archives , Kt bruce , RNLI Archives , Kt bruce .

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