As part of the RNLI Mayday Mile, this year author David Carroll has agreed to join our team to help promote and fundraise for our local station at Dunmore East. Our 22km walk takes place on Sunday 22nd and over May we will have a number of lifeboat-related blogs. You can donate here at the Mayday mile page. Today David relates a story of a mercy mission that typifies the work of the RNLI and a story that he had yet to finalise before the publication of his remarkable Dauntless Courage, Celebrating the History of the RNLI Lifeboats, their crews and the Maritime Heritage of the Dunmore East Community.
Easter Sunday in 1953 fell on April 5th. The weather was very unkind, and the Munster Express reported that the few visitors in the area were compelled to seek the pleasures of the fireside. The newspaper reported that the recent rainfall had proved to be a blessing for local farmers as the ground had been parched. Disappointment was expressed that a local-bred horse called Free Lancer, supported by many local punters, had a very unsatisfactory outing in the Irish Grand National on Easter Monday. This was offset, somewhat, by the news that local jockey Jimmy Power had won at Manchester Racecourse on Saturday, riding Mosten Lane at 9/2 odds. Closer to home, a successful and well-attended dance was held on Easter Sunday in the Fisherman’s Hall, Dunmore East with music provided by Frankie King and his band. An Easter Dance held in the Haven Hotel was also reported as being enjoyable.
As the fishermen of Dunmore East put back to sea and others in the village returned to work on Tuesday, April 7th, after the Easter break, little could they expect the dramatic event that would later unfold.
At 10.45 pm, Mr. Arthur Westcott-Pitt, Honorary Secretary of Dunmore East RNLI received a wireless message stating that a passenger on board the SS Corrientes, of Glasgow, was seriously ill with a perforated stomach ulcer and asking if the lifeboat would land him.
By 11.10 pm, in a moderate south-westerly breeze, Dunmore East lifeboat RNLB Annie Blanche Smith (ON 830), had slipped her moorings and was on her way and set a course to intercept the steamer, which was proceeding to Waterford Harbour about twenty miles due South.
The seriously ill passenger was Captain More, a harbour master from Leith in Scotland. The SS Corrientes was on a voyage from Stockton, California to Liverpool, traveling via the Panama Canal. The Waterford Standard newspaper reported that Captain More had been ailing for the last three weeks and within the last few days his condition worsened, and medical advice has been transmitted to the vessel by wireless from ashore.
At midnight, the lifeboat reached the steamer, about seven or eight miles from Dunmore East. The same newspaper went on to report that when the lifeboat came alongside, a member of the crew asked Mr. Westcott-Pitt to come on board and see how tenderly the ill man could be lowered from the vessel. With much difficulty, the sick captain, secured to a stretcher, was lowered to the lifeboat, which returned at full speed to Dunmore East, where an ambulance, doctor, and nurses were waiting to rush him to Waterford City and County Infirmary. Captain More and his wife, who came ashore also on the lifeboat had spent a six-months holiday in New York.
The lifeboat returned to Dunmore East at 01.10 am. Mr. Westcott-Pitt reported that the patient had been transferred to hospital, within 90 minutes of the lifeboat reaching the SS Corrientes. The crew of the Annie Blanche Smith for this service was as follows: Paddy Billy Power, coxswain, Richie Power, second coxswain, Richard Murphy, mechanic, M Whittle, second mechanic, and crew members, J Power, Maurice Power, and A Westcott-Pitt (Hon. Sec.).
The SS Corrientes was a 7,058 GRT, a refrigerated cargo liner that had been built by Short Brothers Ltd, Sunderland and launched on December 21st, 1943, and completed in April 1944 as Empire Cromer. The Empire ships were a series of ships in the service of the British Government. Their names were all prefixed with Empire. They were owned and used during the Second World War by the Ministry of War Transport, which contracted out their management to various shipping lines. In the case of Empire Cromer, it was the Blue Star Line.
In 1946, Empire Cromer was sold to the Donaldson Line, Glasgow, and renamed Corrientes. This was the second ship of that name to serve with Donaldson Line. This previous vessel was torpedoed and sunk in 1940.
The Donaldson Line was originally founded in 1855 under the name Donaldson Brothers, the company began service from Glasgow to South America using a wooden barque. Over the years, many changes and acquisitions took place and new routes were served as the company developed. In 1966, Donaldson stopped their last passenger service, and in 1967 with the advent of containerisation, the company was liquidated, and the fleet sold.
This lifeboat service on April 7th, 1953 was not the only association that Mr. Westcott-Pitt would have with Captain More and his recovery to full health.
Many people, nowadays, may not know that in the years after World War ΙΙ, Dunmore East had its own small aerodrome in Coxtown, which was developed, owned, and operated by Mr. Westcott-Pitt. The land is now occupied by the Airfield Point and Shanakiel estates. In the early part of World War ΙΙ, Mr. Westcott-Pitt had flown with the Air Transport Auxiliary (ATA), a civilian organisation tasked to deliver new and repaired aeroplanes to the RAF. In 1946, Mr. Westcott-Pitt resumed his private flying activities. He purchased an Auster Autocrat airplane and during the 1950s and 1960s, it was a familiar sight to local people as it flew over the village.
On Saturday, April 18th, 1953 the Dunmore East aerodrome was to play an important part in Captain More’s safe return to the United Kingdom.
An article entitled: ‘Arthur Westcott-Pitt: Waterford’s Aviation Pioneer’, by Patrick J. Cummins, appeared in Decies, No 66, in 2010.
The following news item appeared in the Waterford Standard, issued on April 25th, 1953:
“There was considerable excitement in Dunmore East on Saturday afternoon last when a special ambulance plane arrived from England to take back Scots harbour master, Captain More, who had been lying seriously ill in the Waterford City and County Infirmary since he was taken from the SS Corrientes by the Dunmore lifeboat on April 7th. Still seriously ill, Captain More, accompanied by Dr W O’Keeffe, was taken by ambulance to Dunmore, and I am told, such was the timing, that the air ambulance flew in to land at Mr. Arthur Westcott-Pitt’s airfield at almost the same minute. A doctor and nurse were on board the air ambulance, and in a few minutes Captain More was being winged across the channel, to, I hope, a speedy recovery.”
What became of the SS Corrientes?
In 1954, Corrientes was sold to the Blue Star Line. It was intended that she would be renamed Oakland Star, but instead, she was declared surplus to requirements and in January 1955, Corrientes was sold to Williamson & Co Ltd, Hong Kong, and renamed Inchmay. On 3 April 3rd,1962, Inchmay ran aground at Wakayama, Japan. There were no injuries amongst her 45 crew. In 1966, Inchmay was sold to the National Shipping Corporation of Pakistan, Karachi, and was renamed Kaukhali. She served until 1968 when the vessel was scrapped.
I wish to thank Coxswain Roy Abrahamsson at Dunmore East RNLI for allowing access to the station records and to historian Cian Manning for his help with access to local newspapers of April 1953.
The report of the service may be accessed on this link to the RNLI Archives: https://lifeboatmagazinearchive.rnli.org/volume/33/365/the-ss-corrientes?searchterm=The+S.S.+Corrientes&page=1
If you would like to support our efforts to raise funds for the Dunmore East Lifeboat this May you could use the following link to donate https://royalnationallifeboatinstitution.enthuse.com/pf/dunmore-east-rnli-team