Yorkshire resort marks a centenary of dramatic lifeboat rescues

It was one of the most dramatic rescues ever to have taken place off the Yorkshire coast and stands as a proud moment in Whitby’s life-saving history.

The restored William Riley lifeboat. Credit RNLI
The restored William Riley lifeboat. Credit RNLI

The centenary of the 1914 rescue of a wrecked hospital ship, Rohilla, when 144 people were plucked from raging seas, will be marked with a service of remembrance at St Mary’s Church and other events including a wreath laying ceremony.

Rohilla, a First World War hospital ship heading to Dunkirk, ran aground on October 30, 1914, a quarter of a mile off Whitby at Saltwick Nab in appalling weather conditions. Of the 229 people on board, 85 lost their lives.

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Six RNLI lifeboats battled gales and high seas during the three-day rescue, travelling from as far away as Tynemouth to come to the aid of those stranded on the stricken ship.

The restored William Riley lifeboat

Peter Thomson, Whitby RNLI volunteer museum curator, said: “This was the greatest rescue ever to have been carried out off Whitby and it is fitting that the centenary is marked in a very special way.

“We have put a huge amount of thought and planning into commemorating the anniversary and I hope that, as well as being a solemn remembrance of those who tragically died, we will be able to recognise the amazing feats of endurance and bravery of the RNLI lifeboat crews and people of Whitby who worked for such a long time to rescue the survivors.”

The 100th anniversary will be commemorated on Friday, Saturday and Sunday with a series of events to remember those who died and the remarkable RNLI volunteers who helped save 144 lives.

RNLI volunteers and supporters will be joined by descendants of those who died, of survivors and the lifeboat crews who took part. People are due to come from as far away as Australia and the United States to take part.

Mr Thomson said it was not just the scale of the rescue that made the wreck of the Rohilla so remarkable.

“One of those rescued, Mary Roberts, had also survived the sinking of the Titanic two years earlier – she later said the Rohilla experience was much worse than the Titanic. People visiting the museum can see her trunk on display and learn about her amazing story.

“And significantly, the Rohilla rescue was a turning point for the RNLI because it made lifeboat crews realise the future lay in engine power instead of rowing boats. Four of the lifeboats involved in the rescue were rowing lifeboats but it was only the new motor lifeboat Henry Vernon, stationed at Tynemouth, that was able to reach the remaining 50 survivors.”