Hundreds of sailors saved in South Tyneside sea rescue

A breeches buoy being used by members of South Shields Volunteer Life Brigade in May 1968.
A breeches buoy being used by members of South Shields Volunteer Life Brigade in May 1968.

A local history group is calling on readers to help shed light on a remarkable incident which happened off the South Tyneside coast.

Sometime, between October 16 and 17, in 1940, two ships collided, not far out from Marsden, prompting a rescue operation which set a world record, that, it is believed, still stands today.

The subway in Jarrow where the graffiti art is situated.

The subway in Jarrow where the graffiti art is situated.

Details of the collision come from Christine Buckham, of the Whitburn History Group, who is seeking more information about the incident on behalf of a member of the public.

As Christine explains three ships, HMS Fame, HMS Ashanti and HMS Maori (sic) – escort vessels for newly built HMS King George V – set sail from the Tyne.

Ashanti and Fame went south to try to explode mines but collided and ran aground.

As a result, a major rescue operation was launched from Jackie’s Beach, at Marsden.

The graffiti art in the Jarrow pedestrian subway.

The graffiti art in the Jarrow pedestrian subway.

During the rescue 272 crew members were taken to safety off the ships using breeches buoy (a lifebuoy suspended from a rope which has canvass breeches for the user’s legs).

Christine said the rescue operation (which must have taken hours to complete) set a world record for such an event.

Afterwards, one of the ships went to the Tyne for repairs, while the other went to the Wear.

She goes on to say that what locals call the “boiler”, which is still there today, was a gun turret, removed to re-float one of the ships.

So if you can provide more details then please contact me.

Meanwhile, another reader and former contributor, Philip Strong, has been in touch from Australia.

He wants more information about graffiti art commemorating a zeppelin attack on Jarrow on June 15,1915.

The artwork is in a pedestrian subway that leads from Jarrow Bus Station to the town’s Viking Shopping Centre.

Philip, featured in Cookson Country in 2011, when he told how his great uncle Joseph Lane was one of 16 people who died in the zeppelin raid.

“I would like to know who did the graffiti and why?” said Philip. “And I would like to get in touch with them because of my research into this historical event.”

If you can help, I’ll pass on the details.