Looking back on the day village left in mourning

IT was a day that shook the world — and 65 years on it is still as relevant as ever.

On April 23, 1947, 15 children lost their dads, seven women became widows and another was left mourning the death of her fiance.

That was the day when the eight-strong volunteer crew of the Mumbles lifeboat, Edward Prince of Wales, lost their lives.

They had been attempting to rescue the Liberty ship SS Samtampa in atrocious conditions at Sker Point, near Porthcawl.

Yesterday the flags at Mumbles Lifeboat Station flew at half-mast as the people of the village remembered the men who made the ultimate sacrifice trying to save those in peril at sea.

One of them was Maureen Donald, nee Noel, who lost her father William, uncle Ronald Thomas and her mum’s cousins.

“He had only been out of the Navy for 18 months and he joined the crew of the Mumbles lifeboat. I was in a convent school in Swansea and I caught the Mumbles train home. My dad met me and then the maroons went off.

“He said, ‘Sorry darling, got to go. Tell your mother where I’ve gone’.

“He borrowed a bike from someone and he was off — and I never saw him again.”

Maureen recalled waking up that night to hear voices downstairs, then her mother screaming.

“She came up to my room and told me my father had drowned.”

Some time later her mum joined the Mumbles Ladies Lifeboat Guild. Maureen followed suit and has chaired the group — which raises funds for the station — for 33 years.

The Samtampa, a 7,000-tonne steamer sailing from Middlesbrough, had been unable to proceed to Newport in the face of a 70mph gale, and the decision was made to heave-to in the Bristol Channel to await better weather.

But the cables were unable to hold the ship and it broke up into three pieces on the rocks in just 80 minutes.

Ferocious

The Edward Prince of Wales was requested to head to the stricken steamer’s location, two-and-a-half miles from Porthcawl Light, and the eight crewmen braved ferocious seas and hurricane winds to try to save them.

It is believed the lifeboat was struck by an exceptionally high wave, turning over and flinging her crew into the water.

They died, along with the 39-strong crew of the Samtampa.

Today’s Mumbles lifeboat operations manager Tim Conway said it was important the loss of those lives was never forgotten.

“It can still be a very dangerous job, depending on conditions and the nature of the business,” said Mr Conway.

“Our crew members are all volunteers who give their time freely, who put themselves in the line of fire by going out and helping people in trouble.

“Technology has moved on but it’s still relevant and important to remember those people who have given their lives.”

paul.lewis@swwmedia.co.uk

Article source: http://www.thisissouthwales.co.uk/Looking-day-village-left-mourning/story-15899538-detail/story.html