The rescue of the SS Hopelyn in October 1922 was a nationally acclaimed act of bravery of both the Lowestoft and Gorleston lifeboat crews and resulted in 27 gallantry awards from the RNLI (2 gold, 2 silver and 23 bronze medals). Coxswain of the Lowestoft Lifeboat was John Swan, who followed my great grandfather John Mewse as being the man in charge of the lifeboat, and he it was who won the second gold medal ever to be awarded to Lowestoft. One silver and thirteen bronzes were shared by the crew.

The Hopelyn was commanded by Captain R Gibson and was sailing from Newcastle upon Tyne to London with 3,400 tons of coal. A fault developed in her steering off Great Yarmouth which the crew were unable to rectify, and as they worked the weather deteriorated. Both anchors were therefore let go, but both failed to find a grip on the sandy sea bed, and the ship drifted onto Scroby Sand, where she went aground. By this time there was a fierce North Easterly gale with a tremendous running sea, which remained the case throughout the rescue. At 9.30 pm on the evening of 19th October, an SOS was sent out from the Hopelyn, and the Caistor Lifeboat responded, but was unable to get to sea because of the raging seas. At 11 pm the Caister Lifeboat reported their inability to launch and the Gorleston lifeboat, the Kentwell (John Mewse¹s old boat, with 14 oars and two saiils) which had been on standby since the SOS was sent launched at 11.10pm and was towed out to the wreck by the tug George Jewson.

The Kentwell did reach the Hopelyn, but could do nothing because of the darkness and the terrific seas. They stood by until daybreak, by which time only the amidships portion of the Hopewell was above water, and for a further two hours they stayed watching for any sign of life. None was seen, and on the assumption that the crew had been washed overboard and lost, the Kentwell returned to Gorleston.

The crew of the Hopelyn were however in the radio room, having lost the radio mast, and unable to access any distress flares. The Chief Officer MacKenzie reported later "To put your head outside the Marconi room would be simply asking to be washed overboard. It was an impossible task for the waves which were 30 ft to 40 ft high were coming over us and battering around us with terrific force." One can only imagine the feelings of the crew as they saw the Kentwell return to base.

An hour later the Caister Coastguards reported seeing a flag flying on the wreck which had not been there before, and again the crew of the Kentwellput to sea, but struck the sands and had to return empty handed and damaged. Coxswain Fleming reported the impossibility of reaching the wreck due to the high seas, broken pieces of the hull and an old wreck some 30 yerds away.

At 3.45pm on 20th October, the motor lifeboat Agnes Cross commanded by Coxswain John Thompson Sterry Swan, made an attempt to reach the Hopelyn, picking up Cammander Carver at Gorleston as requested. On the way out, she met the Kentwell coming back, and Cosswain Fleming transferred to the Agnes Cross to esablish a joint rescue plan. By the time they got to the wreck where the steel sides of the ship were split open, it was decided that it was too dangerous to make a rescue, for it was now pitch dark. So for the third time the attempt was aborted and the Agnes Cross returned to Gorleston without success.

She was re-launched at 4.30 am on 21 October with a crew of ten men from Lowestoft and seven from Gorleston in the face of a north east gale with squalls and a very rough sea, the weather having worsened overnight. By the time they reached the wreck the only part of the ship above water was the bridge, the ship having broken its back when she went ashore. The survivors waved a white flag from the 12 foot square Marconi room where 24 men and a kitten, Tishy, had been for 36 hours

Coxswain Swan recorded in his log ..."I got such a poor account of the wreck that I decided to wait until next morning, so we reurned to Gorleston. We left at 4am and arrived at the wreck at 6am, let go the anchor, bore down on her and took off all the crew and a black cat"

Commander Carver, an inspector for the RNLI, reported what actually happened in somewhat greater detail. "Only the bridge and Fidley Case above water. Fore and aft decks were completely submerged, and hull of vessel split down on after part of foredeck, with jagged edges of deck projecting, leaving barely the length of the lifeboat to come alongside. Dropped anchor astern and to widward of wreck and veered down. While doing this the lifeboat was struck by a terrific sea and was almost thrown on the after dack. Had it not been for the powerful motor fitted in the boat [A 60 hp Taylor engine] I do not consider we could have got alongside. Steered alongside and shipwrecked crew jumped and slithered down ropes into the lifeboat in about 30 seconds. Steamed ahead to cable... this was cut and almost at the same time the lifeboatr was buried by a terrific broadside sea. Fortunately no one was washed out and the lifeboat returned to Gorleston arriving at 7 am"

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