Tynemouth lifeboat Henry Vernon and the crew who saved 50 survivors from the SS RohillaThe centenary of one of the most dramatic sea rescues ever to take place off the Yorkshire coast will be commemorated in Whitby this weekend (31 Oct – 2 Nov), with a series of events and tributes to remember both those who died and the remarkable RNLI volunteers, including 12 from Tynemouth, who helped save 144 lives.

The 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 horrific weather conditions. Of the 229 people on board, 85 lost their lives.

Six RNLI lifeboats battled gales and high seas during the three-day rescue to come to the aid of those stranded on board the stricken ship.

The Tynemouth lifeboat Henry Vernon, the only motor lifeboat on the North East coast, was called to join the rescue attempt. Captain HE Burton joined Coxswain Robert Smith and 10 volunteer crewmen as they set off on an epic 45-mile journey to Whitby, undertaken in an open boat, in the dark, in heavy seas and gale force winds. Lights along the coast had been extinguished due to the war, and mines had been laid by German submarines making navigation extremely hazardous. Tynemouth lifeboat rescued 50 people from the Rohilla.

To mark the 100th anniversary, RNLI volunteers and supporters will be joined at a number of commemorative events by descendants of those who died, of survivors and of members of the lifeboat crews who took part in the rescue. People are coming from as far away as Australia and the United States to take part.

Among the events will be a wreath laying ceremony at the site of the wreck. Whitby RNLI all-weather lifeboat and the restored rowing lifeboat William Riley, which 100 years ago was lowered down a cliff on ropes in an attempt to reach the Rohilla, will lead a flotilla of boats to the scene.

31st October, 1914. Tynemouth RNLI lifeboat Henry Vernon launches on service to the hospital steamship Rohilla. Lifeboat with 12 crew launched at 4.30pm in a strong gale and heavy sea.Whitby RNLI volunteer museum curator Peter Thomson 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.’

But it was not just the scale of the rescue and the conditions facing the lifeboat crews that made the wreck of the Rohilla so remarkable, added Peter.

‘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. People had been suspicious of motor lifeboats until then but this helped convince the crews that they really were the future.’

Running order for the Rohilla centenary commemoration:

Friday 31 October

11am – Official opening of the weekend’s activity at Whitby RNLI Lifeboat Museum, where a special Rohilla exhibition is running.

Saturday 1 November

12 noon – A demonstration by the restored rowing lifeboat William Riley, which took part in the Rohilla rescue.

1pm – A flotilla of boats led by the Whitby RNLI all-weather lifeboat will sail to the site of the wreck to lay wreaths.

3pm – A plaque funded by Whitby Civic Society to mark the anniversary will be unveiled on West Pier by the Marquis of Normanby.

7pm – A performance of a new folk opera which tells the Rohilla story. Spirit of Whitby by Richard Grainger will be performed at St Hilda’s Church.

Sunday 2 November

11am – A service of remembrance at St Mary’s Church, Whitby.

Centenary of dramatic RNLI rescue off Whitby to be marked in weekend of commemorationhttp://www.tynemouth-lifeboat.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/08/Tynemouth-lifeboat-Henry-Vernon-and-the-crew-who-saved-50-survivors-from-the-SS-Rohilla.jpghttp://www.tynemouth-lifeboat.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/08/Tynemouth-lifeboat-Henry-Vernon-and-the-crew-who-saved-50-survivors-from-the-SS-Rohilla-300x300.jpgTynemouth RNLINewsheritage,history,rohilla,Tynemouth RNLIThe centenary of one of the most dramatic sea rescues ever to take place off the Yorkshire coast will be commemorated in Whitby this weekend (31 Oct – 2 Nov), with a series of events and tributes to remember both those who died and the remarkable RNLI volunteers, including 12...The RNLI is the charity that saves lives at sea