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Ceremony will ensure bravery not forgotten

They were known as “floating coffins”, deathtraps that criss-crossed the oceans and sailed until they sank.

In the 19th century the Norwegian barques which carried cargoes such as coal and pit props between the UK and Scandinavia were lost beneath the North Sea in their hundreds, dragged beneath raging swells or battered into splinters by brutal winds.

Thousands of Scandinavian men lost their lives, far from home.

Almost every day some tragic anniversary passes without mention – 100, 120, 150 years since a vessel and its frightened sailors went down.

But this Sunday one crew will be remembered. A century to the day since the Erato sank off the North-East coastline, its crew will be honoured and their story retold.

Thanks to the work of a descendant of one of the dead seamen and a mainstay of Humber Coastguard, a special service will be held to mark the anniversary, to celebrate lives of the crew and to pay tribute to the brave lifeboatman who risked his own life to save one of the crew.

Erato, of Arendal, a Norwegian-owned barque built in Sunderland, was lost in heavy seas in Skinningrove Bay, near Middlesbrough, on November 11, 1901 after having fought North Sea storms for two weeks. Its cargo of pit props – used to hold up mine shafts – went into the sea and its crew overboard.

Only a teenage boy had survived when well-known lifeboatman Jesse Simmons reached him with a line and pulled him to safety, earning a medal from the King of Norway for his heroics.

And this Sunday descendants of every crew member of the Erato will travel from Norway, Denmark and even the United States to join present-day coastguards at Skinningrove coastguard station to unveil a plaque which remembers the men who lost their lives and the thousands of others like them.

The ceremony has been brought about by retired teacher Christian Jensen, from Nygaardsveien, Norway, whose grandfather Andreas Pederson, the ship’s mate, perished on the Erato, aged 57.

His research was bolstered by that of East Yorkshire man Tony Ellis, deputy district controller with Humber Coastguard and amateur historian, who had also been looking into the events of that night.

Their research has unravelled almost every moment of that awful night.

Mr Ellis told the Yorkshire Post: “It was a truly heartbreaking night and one of so many incidents that were occurring up and down the coastline at that time. These vessels were sailed until they sank and every crewman who stepped on board was a brave man.

“The Erato had fought storms for two weeks before it worked its way into the bay and the people on the quay tried so hard to save them. Only the bravery of Jessie Simmons managed to save one lad.

“These incidents were so commonplace 100 years ago. The loss of life was staggering and when I first heard this story I knew it was important to keep the story of the Erato alive. Christian’s research and ability to track down the descendants is truly astonishing. It will be a very important day.”

When Mr Jensen began researching the shipwreck following his retirement in 1998 it was thought just two of the crew members were buried at Brotton cemetery, not far from Skinningrove.

Further research into the church register at Brotton revealed that four men were found on the beaches in the area during the weeks after the shipwreck. They were also buried at the

cemetery.

The Erato was one of scores of Norwegian-registered ships sinking each year around the turn of the century and its loss was recorded only by six lines of information in Norway's newspapers.

The six men who got their final resting place in Brotton and the three men not found will be remembered during services at Brotton Parish Church following the unveiling of the memorial plaque on the wall of Skinningrove coastguard station. Of the crew of 10, just one was saved. Aksel Akselsen died in 1966 in California aged 84.

dave.mark@ypn.co.uk