New Year’s Eve tragedy off South Shields

Protector.

Protector.

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A few weeks ago, I mentioned that pupils from a South Tyneside school had been learning about the fate of the pilot cutter Protector, which was sunk off the North Pier of the Tyne by a mine, with the loss of all aboard.

Tomorrow marks the 100th anniversary of the tragedy, and Lisa Donohoe,Public Relations Manager at the Port of Tyne, has kindly sent me more details of the sinking, which I’d like to reproduce in order to commemorate the brave men, young and old, who paid the ultimate sacrifice.

“Although not as common as in the Second World War,there were many civilian deaths in the First World War,” explains Lisa.

“People died as a result of zeppelin raids or naval bombardment; they died from explosions in munitions factories; and they also died serving the war effort in other ways, with the Red Cross, the YMCA, as chaplains, as civilian staff of the Admiralty, and as pilots on the river, among others.

“River pilots, aboard cutters, were employed to guide ships safely into harbour, and in this capacity they ran the gauntlet of mines laid by the enemy during the First World War.

“One such was the pilot cutter Protector which was built in 1907 by Rennoldson, at South Shields.

“On New Year’s Eve, 1916, Protector left the Port of Tyne to escort a vessel inwards; the crew, looking forward to a swift return to celebrate the New Year – but they never saw 1917.

“Protector was devastated by a mine in the entrance to the Tyne and was sunk with the loss of all 19 men aboard. The oldest man lost was aged 70 and the youngest was just 16. All of these men were from Tyneside.”

Lisa says it appears that the only body to be recovered was that of Robert Phillips, Pilot 1st class, and the oldest man on board, at the age of 70. He is buried in Tynemouth cemetery.

The other men are all commemorated on the Tower Hill Memorial.

The crewmen were: John Swinney Bone, who was a Pilot 1st class, and who was 36 when he died. He was born in South Shields, the son of Thomas and Ann (Alice?) of 155 Lawson Terrace, South Shields. John’s father Thomas was also a pilot, as was his brother Thomas. His brother Robert was a fireman on a tugboat.

Charles Burn, was also a Pilot 1st Class, and he was 53 when he died. He was born in South Shields, the son of Charles and Catherine of 21 The Lawe, South Shields. His father and four brothers all worked on the pilot vessels.

John Hart Burn was a Pilot 2nd class, and he was 39 when he died. He was born in North Shields, the son of Ralph and Annie of 13 Walker Place, North Shields. His father Ralph was also a pilot.

Robert Chambers was a Pilot 1st class, and he was 48 when he died. He was born in South Shields, the son of Robert and Ellen. His father was also a pilot, and in 1881, at the age of 13, young Robert was already a pilot assistant.

John Cawthorne Cree, was a pilot assistant, and he was 19 when he died. He was born in South Shields, the son of John and Elizabeth. His father was also a pilot, born in Jarrow.

William Robert Forter was 1st engineer, and he was 39 when he died. He was born in North Shields, the son of William and Margaret.

Thomas Heron was a Pilot 1st class, and he was 42 when he died. He was born in South Shields, the son of Benjamin and Esther. His father and two brothers were also pilots.

Alexander Leslie was a pilot assistant, and he was 21 when he died. He was born in South Shields. His father was also a pilot.

William Leslie was a pilot assistant, and he was 19 when he died. He was born in South Shields.

James Matthew Macconnachie was a fireman, and he was 36 when he died. He was born in South Shields, the son of John and Jane Isabella.

Thomas Haw Marshall was a Pilot 1st class, and he was 36 when he died. He was born in South Shields, the son of John and Elizabeth Ann. His father was also a pilot.

James W. Nicholson was a steward, and he was 45 when he died. He was born in North Shields, the son of John and Ann. His father John was originally a sail maker.

Robert Phillips was a Pilot 1st class, and he was 70 when he died. He was born in South Shields, the son of Robert and Catherine. This family produced a long line of pilots; Robert senior, born about 1817, was a pilot, as was his brother Ralph. Sadly his grandson Ralph was with him on the “Protector”.

Ralph Phillips was a pilot assistant, and he was 20 when he died. He was born in North Shields, the son of Ralph and Jane. His father Ralph was, of course, a pilot.

Thomas Reed was the master of the vessel. No age or place of birth is given for Thomas but he was probably born in about 1844 in North Shields.

Bertram Rumney was a cabin boy and he was only 16 when he died. He was born in 1901, registered as Bertram Thompson Rumney, in North Shields.

William H Tinmouth was a Pilot 1st class and he was 41 when he died. He was born in South Shields, the son of Thomas Young Tinmouth and his wife Sarah. His father Thomas was also a pilot.

Matthew Young was a Pilot 1st class and he was 42 when he died. He was born in South Shields, the son of Matthew and Margaret Young. His father Matthew was also a pilot.

William Young was a Pilot 1st class and he was 47 when he died. He was born in South Shields, the son of Thomas and Isabella nee Robson. Thomas was also a pilot.