97 years ago today in 1914, the hospital ship SS Rohilla was sailing to Dunkirk to pick up wounded soldiers from the front line in strong gales and wartime blackout conditions, and owing to lack of visible landmarks struck Whitby Rock, a reef at Saltwick Bay south of Whitby, North Yorkshire, at 4am in the morning. Stuck aground 600 metres from the shore, with high seas and storm force winds, the ship was continually pounded and was starting to break apart. The Royal National Lifeboat Institution, which since the early 19th century and to the modern day runs on charitable donations and is served by volunteer crews, attempted to rescue the 229 men and women on board. All the locally based Lifeboats were rowing Lifeboats, and were unable to reach the wreck owing to the seas and winds.
The Ship's wheel from the SS Rohilla
Two Lifeboats, one from Whitby and one from Upgang (that Lifeboat is to be featured in the next blog post), travelled overland and launched from the beach close to the wreck. A Motor Lifeboat, the Henry Vernon, was sent from Tynemouth to help with the rescue, as well as a Lifeboat from Scarborough, towed by a steam trawler. In total, six Lifeboats were involved in the rescue, and the rescue took fifty hours. All but 85 of the 229 on board lives were saved, and the and the rescue has rightly earned a proud place in Royal National Lifeboat Institution history. It is said that at low tide, the wreck of the Rohilla is still visible. I attempted to fly over the wreck in 2009 but unfortunately wasn't able to reach the area it is, but hope to see it before too long.
There is a superb display, photographs of which illustrate this article, on the Rohilla rescue, which includes this large model