Retired lecturer recalls the night 47 died in Samtampa tragedy

A retired lecturer has recalled the night of the greatest loss of civilian life off the Welsh coast in modern times after reading our report about plans for a permanent memorial.

John Jones was a seven-year-old schoolboy living in Lewis Place, Porthcawl, when the Samtampa liberty ship was wrecked off Sker Point near the town on April 23, 1947.

John Jones as a schoolboy in Porthcawl . John recalls 70mph gusts as he walked to lessons on the day of the Samtampa tragedy

The entire crew of eight men on the Mumbles RNLI l ifeboat Edward Prince of Wales died along with the entire crew of 39 on the Samtampa, a US built Liberty ship which ran into rocks at Sker Point in a force 11 hurricane.

A memorial to a sea tragedy which claimed 47 lives off the coast near Porthcawl is planned

Recalling high winds that day, Mr Jones said gusts were so strong they swept people off their feet.

‘We heard the rockets they fired from Sker Point’

Later that evening he heard a very loud bang – the sound of a rocket being fired from offshore to get a rope and floating chair to the stricken ship.

The RNLI crew from Mumbles who lost their lives going to the aid of the stricken Samtampa off Sker Point

“Around 7pm there was a huge bang. I didn’t know what it was. It was a rocket casting a rope to tie to the boat.

“The sailors on the ship would have pulled it in and get a man across on a Breeches Buoy, an inflatable chair.

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“Next day, we heard all the rockets they fired from Sker Point couldn’t get to the boat before being blown back on land by the strong winds.

“Nothing could be done. It was a terrific storm and running into night by then.”

70mph gusts and mountainous seas

The 70mph gusts had been so strong all day that Mr Jones recalled having trouble walking to the now-closed Lias Road School in Porthcawl.


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“As I walked down Suffolk Place, I saw people being blown over by the force of the wind.

“We are getting used to strong winds but it was rare then. We could hear it all day at school.”

Waking up the next day after hearing the rockets launched without success, he went to see the remains of the wreck.

The RNLI lifeboat is set alight after it lost all of its crew and ran aground trying to save the crew of the Samtampa

The Samtampa had been on its way from Gateshead to Newport via North Devon when it was blown onto the rocks off Porthcawl in mountainous seas.

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None of the 47 who perished in the tragedy drowned, all were asphyxiated by oil which spilled from the engines and engulfed them.

“Next day the sea was flat calm and it was a glorious day, but everything was covered in oil,” recalled Mr Jones, who now lives in Nantymoel.

“I did not appreciate at the age of seven what a tragedy it was. So many had died and oil was everywhere along Morfa Beach. The area is still suffering today.

“There used to be mussel beds but they were destroyed and have still not grown back on Morfa Beach.

Part of the wreck of the Samtampa can still be seen at very low tide of Sker Point

“People were not clearing up the oil. They let nature take its course. It was after the war and no one had much money.

“I remember the funeral cortege going to Nottage with the crew of the Samtampa. The crew of the lifeboat were buried in Mumbles.”

Mr Jones, who went on to become a Sea Cadet and himself helped rescue several swimmers off the coast around Porthcawl as a teenager, supports plans for a permanent memorial to those who lost their lives that night.

‘Bravery and tragedy should be remembered’

“It should be remembered and it is nice to recognise the work of the lifeboat crew,” the retired University of Glamorgan physiology lecturer said.

“The RNLI still do a lot and there are a lot of retired sailors living in Porthcawl. It’s a sea faring town and there ought to be a memorial.”

A permanent memorial to those who lost their lives is planned to mark the 70th anniversary of the disaster next year.

Porthcawl Shout Forum, Porthcawl Museum Society and Bridgend County Borough Council are working together to get a Heritage Lottery grant to provide a memorial near the harbour and RNLI base in the town.

A plaque was placed on rocks at Sker Point where the Mumbles RNLI lifeboat was burned after being sunk trying to save the crew of the stricken Samtampa off Porthcawl in 1947

Bridgend College art and design students have been working on designs for the sculpture which Porthcawl Shout Forum chairman Gary Victor ho pes will be erected before the 70th anniversary in April 2017.

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Engines of the wrecked ship are still visible at very low tide of Sker Point, 12 of the ship’s crew are buried in Porthcawl Cemetery and a small plaque marks the spot on Sker Point rocks where the Mumbles RNLI lifeboat was burned, as is tradition, after the tragedy

Anyone interested in being involved in efforts to mark the anniversary is asked to contact organisers on 01656 783491.

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