Remembering the Mary Stanford


On Thursday, November 8, Laton Frewen gave a talk at Rye Museum, East Street on the subject of the Mary Stanford Lifeboat disaster. The tragedy occurred on November 15, 1928, ninety years ago this year.

Frewen told the story in the words of a lady, late of his parish who was the grand-daughter of Herbert Head, coxswain of the lifeboat. He and two of his sons died in the disaster.

The story is a familiar one to locals: how the steamer Alice of Riga collided with the German boat Smyrna in a howling gale in the Channel; how the signal went up and the people of Rye Harbour struggled for hours to cross the mile and a half to the lifeboat house. How the boat launched before word reached the Coast Guard that the crew of the Alice was already saved.

No-one knows why the Mary Stanford returned to Rye instead of sailing on to Folkestone or Dover as she usually did, but on the morning of November 15, a boy on Camber Beach saw the boat overturn in a shaft of sunlight just at the mouth of the Rother. Seventeen men, the full crew, were lost.

Fifteen bodies washed ashore that day. A sixteenth was recovered three months later. The final body – that of 17-year-old John Head, son of the coxswain and youngest of the crew -was never found.

Frewen’s last slide was a photo of a worn Union Jack. It was recovered from a storage compartment in the recovered Mary Stanford and given to Herbert Head’s widow and has stayed in the family ever since.

This was the second in the 2018-19 series of museum talks. For more information on future subjects, visit the museum website.

Image Credits: Sarah Cooper .

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