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