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Background

  

It’s great that Whitstable now has Lifeboat representation. Having been a sailor most of my life it’s a comforting thought to know you are only a VHF call away from help. In the past, we were reliant on the Margate Lifeboat which was our nearest. This was the case for many years. 

Sheerness did not have a Lifeboat until 1970 and, so, the story I am going to relate concerns the three lifeboat stations closest to Whitstable at the time. These were Margate, Ramsgate and Southend. 

 

Receiving the Call

  

The date was 13th November 1957. I was seventeen and mate on the fishing boat Pandalus owned by Bert Stroud, an ex RAF man whose father owned the bakery opposite the Oxford cinema. Bert also owned Portunus which was skippered by “Cod”Kelsey. Dave Stroud ( no relationship to Bert) was mate on this boat.

At about 6.05 pm on the 13th, a message was received by the coastguard from USAF Manston that two Thunder Jet F84’s had gone missing. A further message at 6.28 pm stated that the aircraft had gone down in the sea between the Woolpack and the Pudding Pan Sands. Of course, I knew nothing of this until Bert Stroud came to my house explained the situation and asked if I would go to sea to assist in searching for the pilots. He also asked me to alert Dave Stroud as to the situation and bring him along. 

At 6.40, the Margate lifeboat, “The North Foreland”, was launched from Margate, closely followed by the Ramsgate and the Southend boats. Dave Stroud and I arrived at the harbour at about 7.00pm and it soon became apparent that the weather was somewhat inclement. It was blowing hard from the east and the tide was ebbing. Cod Kelsey was already on board his boat Pandalus and had the engine running. Bert Stroud then arrived by car and we set about starting the engine on Portunus

 

Joining the Search

  

Having achieved all pre sea checks, we readied ourselves for an uncomfortable twelve or so hours at sea. I should add that we would not have gone to sea in these conditions if we were fishing. We cast off and headed out.

Rounding the pier head, the waves after clearing the pier were taken on our starboard quarter and were breaking over the boat but, once we were clear and heading into the waves, it was not so bad, I was at the helm and Bert was on the radio to Cod and the Margate lifeboat. A forty minute steam with the Street Buoy well over our stern, we could see the Margate lifeboat in the distance well lit up. Because of the wind, visibility was very good. Another half an hour or so, we were joined by the Ramsgate boat and later by the Southend lifeboat. 

We searched all night in vain for wreckage. We radioed the three lifeboats and told them of our decision to return to harbour. They thanked us for turning out in what can only be described as atrocious conditions.

 

Outcome

  

Three weeks later, we all received letters from the RNLI which included a cheque for a small amount and expressing their thanks at the courage shown. The following day, we learnt that one large fuel tank was found, also a body belt. Sadly, no bodies were ever recovered. 

Between October the 30th and November the 13th, four aircraft were lost at sea around our coast and the RNLI featured in all the searches. Losses were a USAF Sabre Jet off Norfolk, an RAF Hawker Hunter off Ilfracombe and, lastly, the USAF Thunderjets from Manston.

My personal "reward" (for that is what it is called ) for turning out to the incident  was £1.10 shillings. Dave Stroud received the same. 

The boat always gets a reward and Bert and Cod an undisclosed amount. It is not done for reward, and it could very easily be your own demise one day. However, I can give you figures of amounts the crews of the respective lifeboats received. Rewards incurred searching for USAF F.84 Thunderjets were....

   

  • Nov 13th Southend lifeboat 16hrs at sea =£47-15shillings
  • Nov 13th Ramsgate lifeboat 17hrs at sea =£40-5 shillings
  • Nov 13th Margate Lifeboat 21hrs at sea = £60-14 shillings
  • Nov 15th Southend lifeboat 11hrs at sea =£35-5 shillings
  • Nov 15th Ramsgate Lifeboat 10hrs at sea = £23-5 shillings
  • Nov 15th Margate Lifeboat 10hrs at sea = £37-9 shillings
  • Total Hours: 85 Total rewards to crew: £244-13 shillings.

   

A pleasing end if you can say that to this tragedy is that, through the grapevine, USAF Manston made a rather large donation to the RNLI. This is only hearsay but I would conclude very probable. 

So, you can see why the RNLI need your donations. It has always been my pet charity and the only charitable lifeboat institution in Europe. IT MUST NEVER BE NATIONALISED.


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