Friday, 10 January 2014

It Happened At Sea


Mary Kezia Roberts
Was a remarkable woman
If for no other reason
Then she sailed, as a stewardess,
Aboard Titanic, and survived
And two years later
Was aboard the HMHS Rohilla
When she was wrecked
And she survived again


On 30 October 1914
The hospital ship Rohilla
Sailed southerly through
The stormy North Sea
Bound from Leith to Dunkirk
To bring allied wounded home
Around 4:00 a.m.
On that fateful morn
With the high seas
And storm force winds
Battering the ship
She struck Whitby Rock,
On the Saltwick reef
South of Whitby town.
It was wartime
No landmarks were visible
As blackouts were observed
And aids to navigation
Were nonexistent
Although only 600 yards
From the safety of shore
The fiercely blowing gale
Hampered rescue attempts
But the RNLI persevered
And more than half aboard
The stricken ship were saved


When the Rohilla
Struck Whitby rock
On the Saltwick reef
In October 1914
The storm was so bad
The life boat
Could not be launched
From Whitby harbour
So the rescuers grittily
Manhandled the lifeboat
Over an eight-foot seawall
And treacherous rocks
So it could be launched
From the beach
On the first attempt
They rescued seventeen
On the second
Another eighteen
But in the second attempt
The lifeboat was damaged
Too badly to make a third


As the savage seas
Pounded the stricken ship
Helpless onlookers watched
From the lonely beach
As nature won out
Ropes attached to Rockets
Were shot from the cliff top
But in the howling gale
Each fell short


HMS Birkenhead began life
As a steam frigate
One of the first iron-hulled vessels
Built for the Royal Navy
But she was quickly converted
And was commissioned as a troopship
It was as such on 26 February 1852
While transporting troops to Algoa Bay,
She was wrecked at Danger Point
Near to Gansbaai
100 miles from Cape Town,
With insufficient serviceable lifeboats
For all the passengers.
This gave rise to the most disciplined
Act of self-sacrifice ever witnessed
Described in verse by Rudyard Kipling
As the "Birkenhead drill"
Where the soldiers famously stood firm,
In serried ranks and allowed
The women and children
To safely board the boats
The courage and chivalry
Of the noble soldiers
In the face of certain death
Gave rise to the now accepted practice
When abandoning ship
Of “Women and children first”
And 550 men perished in the sea


The Arniston was an East Indiaman
But had been requisitioned as a troopship
She was sailing from Ceylon to England
To repatriate soldiers wounded in the Kandyan Wars
When during a storm near Cape Agulhas, South Africa
She was wrecked at Waenhuiskrans on 30 May 1815
With only six surviving of the 378 aboard


The steamship Royal Charter
Was returning to Liverpool
In late October 1859
Laden with gold
And Nuevo riche prospectors
From the Australian goldfields.

It was recommended to
Thomas Taylor, Captain
To put into Holyhead harbour
To wait out the storm
But having thus far
Made good time from Melbourne
He wanted to press on to Liverpool

As she rounded Anglesey’s
North-western tip
The barometer dropped
The squall quickly grew
And reached Storm force 10
On the Beaufort scale
The Royal Charter tried,
Off Point Lynas,
To pick up the Liverpool pilot
To guide them to safety
But the wind had risen
To Hurricane force 12
And was driving her
Towards the Anglesey coast
The Captain dropped anchor
But within two hours
Both anchor chains had snapped
And on 26 October 1859
The steam clipper Royal Charter
Broke up on the rocks near Moelfre

Despite the heroic efforts
From the people of Anglesey
Less than 40 survived
From the 450 passengers and crew


The Royal Charter storm
Which blew up out of the Irish Sea
Takes its name from one ship
Out of the 133 ships
Sunk on the 25 and 26 October 1859
With a further 80 damaged
And a death toll of 800


In the aftermath
Of the sinking
Of HMHS Rohilla
In 1914
Amidst all the plaudits
Medals and awards
For heroism and gallantry
Was Captain Neilson,
Awarded the RSPCA’s
Bronze Medal
For his efforts to rescue
The ship's cat

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