A sensational tale of tragedy and heroism

Tadorne wreck.
Tadorne wreck.

One hundred years ago, a daring rescue took place off the north Northumberland coast – one which is less well-known than the famous tale of Grace Darling, but just as inspiring.

On March 29, 1913, the French steam trawler Tadorne was wrecked off the coast near Boulmer and Howick.

Ceremony aboard the Primauguet.

Ceremony aboard the Primauguet.

Five men died and are buried in Howick churchyard, but thanks to a speedy rescue by the Boulmer lifeboat crew and the care of women in the village, the remaining 25 members of the 30-man crew were saved.

A vivid and descriptive account of the wreck and rescue was published in the Alnwick and County Gazette.

It reads: ‘The story is a thrilling one of impenetrable fog, raging seas, deckswept ship, of weird cries in the night, drowning men and brave rescue by the lifeboat in the angry surf.’

Those involved in the rescue described the appalling conditions that night: ‘The sea was that big, it nearly broke all our backs, and it’s a wonder we’re alive today.’

Ceremony aboard the Primauguet.

Ceremony aboard the Primauguet.

And back in the village, ‘the return of the lifeboat was anxiously watched from the shore, and when it was seen that some disaster had occurred, the coastguard, with admirable promptitude, ordered all children from the scene.

‘Mrs Stephenson, the capable wife of the coxswain, said “Now women, something has happened. We must pull ourselves together and act for the best”.’

The French paid tribute to the men who lost their lives on the Tadorne and the warship Bastiase, which was struck by a mine in 1940 off the Teesside coast, earlier this year.

In a ceremony aboard the French warship Primauguet on Tuesday, February 5, two wreaths were laid at sea to honour those lost. The wreaths had been handed over three days earlier at a ceremony aboard the vessel when she was docked at North Shields.

Speaking to the Bridge parish magazine, Mattie Campbell of Boulmer, whose father had been one of the rescuing lifeboat crew 100 years ago, said that that event had been very solemn and moving.

“We were piped aboard and piped off. Speeches were given celebrating Anglo-French relations, commemorating the loss of the French ships, and praising local communities in launching the rescues,” he said.

The villages’ vicar, Rev Ian MacKarill, said: “The captain spoke about the mission of the ship, the current collaboration of the French and British Navies and of the constant dangers that all mariners face at sea. Thus all lives lost are honoured, whether fishermen, Navy or civilian.”

Thanks go to Avril Meakin, from Howick, for sharing her information and research on the Tadorne with the Gazette.