RICHARD CROFTS LO365 / M229
Courtesy of Mick Evans
[See also below]
Official No: 143931 Port Number and Year: 700th in London, 1920 (LO365)
1st in Milford, 1952
Description: Castle Class steel side trawler; steam screw, coal burning. Ketch rigged: mizzen.
Crew: 11 men (1920). 12 men (1952).
Registered in Milford: 10 Jun 1952
Built: 1918, by Cook, Welton & Gemmell, Beverley. (Yard no. 396)
Tonnage: 290.16 grt 126.58 net.
Length / breadth / depth (feet): 125.5 / 23.5 / 12.7
Engine: T 3-Cyl. 60.7 nhp. 10 kts. Engine and boiler by Amos & Smith, Albert Dock Works, Hull.
As RICHARD CROFTS LO365
1919: The Admiralty, London.
Manager: The Secretary, Admiralty, Whitehall, London S.W.1
2 Jun 1920: The Iago Steam Trawlers Co. Ltd., The Docks, Milford.
Manager: Charles Curzon. (Same address. )
Edward D. W. Lawford, 'Havenhurst', The Rath, Milford. (1930.)
May 1946: Lewis Wilcox & Co. Ltd., The Docks, Milford.
10 Jun 1952: Milford Steam Trawling Co. Ltd., The Docks, Milford.
Manager: James Carpenter Ward.
Landed at Milford:
As HMT RICHARD CROFTS: 28 Jul 1919.
As LO365: 17 May 1920 - 3 Mar 1930; 7 May 1946 - 29 Jun 1952.
As M229: 16 Jul 1952 - 10 Feb 1953.
Skippers: Albert Riby; Bobby Kettle; Grenville Beckett; Harry Rich
Richard Crofts, age 26, born Coventry; Pte. R.M., HMS VICTORY, at Trafalgar.
13 Jun 1918: Completed for the Admiralty as a minesweeper (Admy.no. 3720). 1x12pdr.
Mar 1930: Iago firm relocated to Fleetwood, by Edward D. W. Lawford.
Aug 1939: Requisitioned by the Admiralty and converted to a minesweeper (P.No. FY 530)
1940: Returned to owners.
July 1941: Re-requisitioned and converted to a minesweeper
Aug 1945: Returned to owners.
20 Feb 1953: Foundered off Coll in the Inner Hebrides. Skipper and seven men lost; four survivors. [See story below.]
Cert. Cancelled & Milford Registry Closed: 30 May 1953
Accidents and Incidents
From the Pembrokeshire Telegraph of Wednesday 6th September 1922:
During the last week the herring season set in properly, just when the trade was beginning to wonder if "failure" was to be written concerning it. It was somewhat unfortunate that the big arrivals came on Friday, possibly the poorest day in the week to deal with a large quantity of fish, and the result was that the prices showed a big drop from previous values. There were no less than 2,100 kits landed, and the largest haul was made by the Richard Crofts, consisting of nearly 500 kits for just one and a half days fishing.
From the West Wales Guardian of Friday 31st May 1929:
MILFORD SKIPPERS SUMMONED
Alleged Racing into Dock
Magistrates and Conflicting Evidence
Two Milford skippers, Albert Riby, of the s.t. "R. Croft" [sic, passim], and Reg High, of the s.t. "Tealby", were summoned by Capt. W. R. Marrs, at Milford Sessions on Wednesday, before Ald. Robert Cole and other magistrates, for refusing to obey his orders when entering Milford Docks on May 8th.
Mr. G. T. Kelway (Messrs. Price and Kelway, solicitors), appeared on behalf of the Docks Company.
Mr. G. T. Kelway, for the Docks Company, said that at the early morning tide of May 8th, about 4.23, when it was still dark - when the dock gates were opened, there were four vessels outside ready to come in. The signal for vessels to approach the dock during the hours of darkness was the hoisting of two green lights on the Pier Head. This was done, and the nearest vessel, the s.t. "Surmount" proceeded towards the lock, followed by another vessel. The other two trawlers, the R. Croft and the Tealby, instead of coming on in single line, came in abreast and raced for the dock entrance. The Dock Master at once saw there was the imminent likelihood of a collision, and switched off the lights as a signal for the ships to stop, but instead of stopping the two trawlers continued to proceed towards the Dock entrance.. The dock master hailed them and told them to stop racing. However, they continued to come ahead, and only stopped when actually in the dock. The vessels did not actually charge into the dock gates. The defendants violated two bye-laws of the Dock Company.
Mr. Kelway explained that these prosecutions were not brought in a spirit of vindictiveness. It was in the very best interests of the trawlers themselves. There were two great dangers; firstly, damage might be done to the dock gates, and secondly there might be a collision at the dock entrance which would probably cause one or more trawlers to sink.
Capt. Marrs, the dock master, and Capt. Hurry, assistant dock master, bore out the solicitor's statement.
High pleaded not guilty, and added that on this particular night there was a strong westerly wind blowing and visibility was bad. The dock master allowed them to get in too close before putting on the lights, which was an error on his part. "It is the easiest thing in the world," concluded the skipper, "to stand on the pier head and shout 'Go astern', but a ship is not like a horse and cart. I carried out his orders as best as I possibly could."
Riby, the other defendant, also pleaded not guilty, and stated that the lights went out when he was abreast of the buoys, and his engines had stopped. If they were in the wrong the "Sialese" [ sic - probably CYELSE, which also landed on 8th May ] was also in the wrong.
Mr. Kelway: There was a further incident with the "Sialese" when she got into the dock and she was punished for it.
Asked why the "Sialese" was punished, Capt. Hurry stated that whilst they were dealing with these two vessels, they told the skipper not to move from his position. After attending to the two vessels they found the "Sialese" had gone ahead, and as a result they ordered it to go at the foot of the market. The reason why this ship was not summoned was because it was not to blame in the first place.
Mr. L. J. Meyler: By doing that haven't you given this boat preference?
Capt. Hurry: I have given no preference at all.
After retiring, the chairman of the Bench (Ald. Robert Cole) announced that they had considered the case very carefully and had come to the conclusion that the evidence was very conflicting, and they, therefore, dismissed the case.
From the West Wales Guardian of Friday 16th January 1948:
If those gallant men who go down to the sea in ships, or others connected with the industry ashore, were asked to name the port's leading skippers last year, there would be much scratching of heads and even more heated argument.
Our records, however, indicate that Skipper-Lieutenant Tom Donovan, North Road, in the Hatano, with crack Milford Skipper Albert Riby, Shakespeare Avenue, Gunner, and Skipper William Rostron, Shakespeare Avenue, Cotswold, finished on level terms.
In the Castle Class, Skipper Bobby Kettle, Vaynor Road, Richard Crofts, topped the list of catches just ahead of Skipper Jimmy Hewitt, North Road, Concertator, though the average of Skipper Albert Seeling, Edward Street, during his nine months in charge of the William Bunce, gave the port's best monthly return.
In the inter-Castle Class, 36 year old Skipper Jack Foster, Picton Road, had the best returns, while Skipper Jack Ryan, Stratford Road, once again earned his title of "Crabber King", which he held before the war.
From the West Wales Guardian of Friday 18th January 1952:
"DUKE" AT THE TOP AGAIN
After two years as "runners-up", Skipper Albert Saunders and the "Milford Duke" are once again in top place in the Milford fishing "league". In 1951 Skipper Saunders caught a greater value of fish than any other individual trawler captain in the port.
Second in the league on last year's results is Skipper W. Burgoyne, who has moved up a place, closely followed by Skipper Steve Pembroke, who was sixth in the list of 1949 catches. "Crack" Skipper for 1948 and 1949, Skipper Tom Donovan, D.S.C., is a close fifth in results while consistent Skipper James Jobson again occupies fourth position.
Here are the leading positions, the ships being classed according to size.
Capt. Kettle has done it again! In 1949 Skipper Bob Kettle was runner-up in the Castle boats; in 1950 he topped the list and his catches in 1951 gave him a winning lead over steady Skipper George Knight, who took the Lephreto into second place for the second year running. Two captains who have moved up in the "table" are Skippers Gue and Lawrence.
1. Richard Crofts (Bob Kettle), Mr. W. Wilcox.
2. Lephreto (Geo. Knight), Messrs. Jenkerson.
3. Thomas Leeds (Harry Gue), Mr. H. Westonborg.
4. Alexander Scott (J. Lawrence); 5, Their Merit (Jeff Tucker); 6, Settsu (Norman Brown); 7, T. Booth (late Skipper R. W. Limbrick); 8. W. Bunce (W. R. Robertson); 9, Milford King (Albert Beckett)[sic]; 10, Sea Hunter (J. McLelland).
John Stevenson Collection
The Times, Saturday, Feb 21, 1953; pg. 6; Issue 52552; col F:
8 Feared Lost In Trawler Wreck
Breeches Buoy Rescues
Eight members of the crew of 12 are believed to have died when the Milford Haven trawler Richard Crofts, 290 tons, sank after running aground in fog on a reef off the Argyllshire island of Coll early yesterday.
The Richard Crofts left Milford on a fishing voyage last Saturday in charge of Skipper Harry Rich, one of the port's youngest skippers, who served as an officer in minesweepers during the war. His crew were all local men.
The trawler ran bow on to rocks in high seas and a strong wind, and radioed for assistance. The Barra lifeboat was launched, and ships in the area altered course to go to the scene.
A tug stationed in the Hebrides went to the aid of the trawler and stood by. The Devonport-based frigate Relentless left Londonderry to go to the spot. Aircraft searched for survivors.
A fireman, J. Vliestra, swam from the wreck and reached the shore almost unconscious. He had stayed behind with the skipper until the trawler went down. Both tried to swim ashore together, but the skipper failed. His body was recovered later.
Two other survivors, R.J. Davies, second engineer, and Thomas Donovan, deckhand, were rescued by breeches buoy from a small rock on which their raft struck. Donovan's leg was smashed by the seas while was being rescued. The fourth survivor, H. M. Jones, fireman, swam ashore later. All were treated for shock and exposure.
From the West Wales Guardian, of 27th February 1953:
Milford was a port of silent sorrow on Wednesday afternoon, hushed in heartache and sympathy as eight gallant fishermen were borne to their last resting place in the wind-swept Cemetery at Priory. Eight of the crew of the trawler “Richard Crofts” had come home and although Milford is always steeled to tragedy the loss of these eight brave sons has been doubly poignant. Death at a distance is strangely unreal to those not closely connected with those who are lost or left. Loved ones from Milford have vanished without trace throughout the years, but when the "Richard Crofts" foundered, the sea gave up its dead to underline once again the price of fish measured in sacrifices, and tears. The news that the “Richard Crofts” had founded seeped through the town on Friday morning, but late in the afternoon the floodgates of grief burst open with the announcement that eight of the crew of twelve, including the young skipper Harry Rich, a mine-sweeping officer in the last war, had perished in the icy waters around the wind-lashed Hebrides.
The eight members of the crew who died were:
Skipper Harry Rich, Laurel Villa, Waterloo Road, Hakin.
Chief Engineer Charles Duncan Toombs, 19,Nelson Avenue, Hakin.
Mate Walter Charles Hollowell, Cranham Park Road, Johnston.
Bosun John Charles Owen, 4, Eastleigh Drive, Milford.
Third Hand George Robert Coe, 44, Stratford Road, Milford.
Cook Norman Stanley Rees, 231, Robert Street, Milford.
Deckhands Edgar John Taylor, 14, Blackbridge Crescent, Milford.
John James Turrell, l5, Priory Ville, Milford.
For the first time in living memory in Milford, the sea had given up its dead and so it was that on Wednesday when the eight victims were laid to rest, thousands joined in funeral scenes, the like of which had never been known before in the port. In the cold grey light of early morning on Tuesday, the coffins bearing the bodies arrived home after a long train journey from Oban. They were met by a small, solemn group including relatives and representatives of the owning company. The cortege proceeded up Hamilton Terrace to St.Katharine's Parish Church where it was met by the vicar, Rev. Haydn Parry, M.C. Six caskets were laid on the alter steps, the other two being taken to the homes of the men until nightfall when they were laid alongside the others to lie in state in the Parish Church. At seven p.m. the vicar conducted a short memorial service intended for the relatives of the dead but a large number of other townspeople also sympathetically joined in the devotions. At ten a.m. on Wednesday a Requiem Mass was celebrated when the chairman of the U.D.C., Cllr C.G. Lewis, attended along with other civic and industrial representatives. It was a most touching sight with two candles glowing on the high alter divested of all ornament and flowers for Lent. The only touch of colour was in the beautiful wreaths of spring flowers covering the coffins.
All the morning townspeople many of them women in tears, filed quietly past in homage to those eight coffins lying in state. For some it was the only tangible link they had had with the loss of their own loved ones at sea in previous tragedies when the dead did not come home. All the morning too, hundreds of wreaths were arriving from organisations and from the public and by mid-day the Chapel of Remembrance was filled with flowers. Company officials and staff were on duty all day at the church dealing with the wreaths and with other enquiries and arrangements. At one p.m. all the shops in the town closed their doors for the afternoon and Milford went into complete mourning. From the tower of the Parish Church the Red Ensign of the Merchant Navy and Fishing Fleet flew at half mast along with scores of other flags throughout the town and on every vessel in the Docks. Curtains and blinds in every house were drawn and the townspeople started assembling for the funeral services. A crowd of many hundreds gathered outside St. Katherine's and all hearts went out to the families of the dead as they arrived for the service. No members of the public were admitted for there were nearly two hundred and fifty relatives to be seated.
First to arrive was the young widow of the Skipper, Mrs. Phyllis Rich, who bravely held her head up as she walked bravely down to the front seat. With the bo'sun's widow, Mrs. J.C. Owens was her eldest son, fair headed eleven years old Eric John, the youngest mourner at the service. The four survivors sat immediately behind the families, the second engineer, Reg Davies, of Neyland, who has a fractured leg, being assisted into the church by his two comrades. With these four sat the managing director of the Milford Steam Trawling Company, Mr. J.C. Ward and Mrs. Ward and the secretary, Col. D.C. Bruton and Mrs. Bruton. Also present were the Supt. Engineer, Mr. G.B. Taylor, and the Accountant, Mr. G.R. Owens and Mrs. Owens. From the Town Hall the chairman of the U.D.C., Clr.C.G.Lewis, led the procession of civic and social representatives. They included the Mayor of Haverfordwest (Clr. C. Ivor Male), the Mayor of Pembroke (Ald. Charles Green, J.P.), the chairman of Neyland U.D.C., the chairman of Milford T.O.A., Mr. R.L. Hancock, trawler owners and representatives of 11 branches of the industry, Cmdr. T. A. Gibson, of the South Wales Sea Fisheries District Committee (a war time colleague of Skipper Rich), Cmdr. J.E.P. Brass, R.N. (retired), Port Fisheries Officer, Lt.Cmdr. T. Askwith, R.N. Kete, Ald. G.S. Kelway, Lloyds Agent at Milford, Col. G.T. Kelway, H.M. Coroner, Mr. S. Israel, County Chief Fire Officer, Lt. T. Bateman, Sea Cadet Officer and many other representatives of organisations and clubs. Most of the dead fishermen were ex-service men and the Milford Branch of the British Legion was represented by officials and members, lead by the standard-bearer. All the trawler skippers in the Port attended the service and as many members of the crews could be accommodated in the church. Forty local fishermen of all ranks and several nationalities acted as bearers.
The service, conducted by the Vicar, was short and simple, the full robed choir leading the singing with Mr. R.B. Narbett at the organ, the l30th Psalm which begins "Out of the deep have I called unto thee, O Lord" was chanted and the Rev. M.J. Williams, pastor of North Road Baptist Church, read the lesson. The hymns sung were "Let Saints on earth in concert sing" and "Lead kindly light" and the service ended with the singing of the sadly beautiful Russian Contakion for the dead. Rev. A.G. Thomas, curate of St. Peter the Fisherman's, led the Prayers. The huge crowd outside heard the service relayed to them by loud speakers.
Borne by their fellow seamen the coffins were carried slowly from the church, each draped with the Red Ensign and covered with flowers. The British Legion Standard was dipped in salute as each passed, that of Skipper Rich was laid on the first lorry on the Royal Navy White Ensign which denoted his service in the R.N.R. Alongside was placed the casket bearing the body of his Mate, Charles Hollowell. The family mourners followed each coffin from the church one by one. The four draped lorries bearing the coffins moved off followed by forty cars carrying the bereaved families. Immediately behind the last relatives came the four survivors.
The whole cortege was the largest ever seen in West Wales and contained over one hundred cars, three motor coaches and three lorries laden with wreaths. It moved slowly through the streets lined with townspeople to the last resting place in the Cemetery. There, a special section had been made and eight graves lay alongside each other in one plot of ground, a huge assembly had gathered to watch the last rites and the scenes were heart-rending in the extreme as the long lines of cars brought the bereaved families to the graveside. The robed clergy and the ministers who walked in procession were the vicar (Rev. Haydn Parry, M.C.), the rector of Hubberston (Rev. W.U. Jacob), Vicar of Walton West (Rev. J.F.G. Richards), the Curate of St. Peter the Fisherman's Church (Rev. A.G.C. Thomas), the Rev. A.S. Caswell, St.Katherines, Rev.R. Renowden, Curate of Hubberston, Revs. H. Lewis and F.T. Buckingham, Wesleyan Methodist Church, Rev .M.J. Williams, North Road Baptist, Mr. C.Laurie, R.N.M.D.S.F., Rev. Alun Morgan, Rehobeth Church Hakin. At the graveside the relatives stood at each side as the committal rites were performed, several of the women mourners overcome by grief and emotion collapsed and were supported by relatives. The Rector of Hubberston conducted the committal rites for Skipper Rich and Chief Engineer Toombes, Rev H. Lewis for Mate Hollowell, Mr. Laurie for Third Hand Coe and Deck Hand Taylor, Rev. M.J. Williams for Deck Hand Turrell and the Vicar for Bo'sun Owens and Cook Rees. The Vicar pronounced the Benediction and the mourners filed slowly past the graves taking a final farewell. Mr. and Mrs. Ward stepped forward and stood with heads bowed in prayer.
Then came what was perhaps the most poignant scene of all - three of the four survivors came forward together and stood at the edge of the graves in a last salute to their shipmates, the fourth, second engineer Reg Davies whose leg is encased in plaster sat behind them, his head bowed in silent tribute. The crew of the ill fated “Richard Crofts” was for that brief moment again united in spirit.
The Mayor of Haverfordwest (Mr. C. Ivor Male) referred to the disaster at Tuesday's meeting of the Borough Council. He expressed the hope that everyone would respond to the appeal made by the Chairman of Milford U.D.C. on behalf of the victims and announcing that a mammoth whist drive was to be held in aid of the fund, said, “Once again the tradespeople of Haverfordwest have been eager to assist and I have already been offered many valuable and attractive prizes.” The members stood in silence.
A few weeks ago the “Guardian” published a photograph of 38 year old Skipper Harry Rich, Laurel Villa, Waterloo Road, Hakin, as the leading skipper of the Port in 1952. Two weeks ago the diesel ship he had commanded for two years, the “Maythorne”, left the port on the completion of the experiment, to return to her owners at Portsmouth, and on Saturday, February 14th, Skipper Harry Rich sailed from Milford in command of the steam trawler “Richard Crofts”. Among his crew of eleven were seven of his “regulars” who went with him from the "Maythorne". The "Richard Crofts” sailed north to the fishing grounds off the Island-scattered West Coast of Scotland Skipper Rich's favourite and most successful grounds.
On Friday morning the port learned with anxiety that the "Richard Crofts" had struck a reef off the island of Tiree in the bleak Inner Hebrides. Tension grew hourly as no news was forth coming and by late afternoon there was serious alarm throughout the port when it was learned that all was not well. The owners, the Milford Steam Trawling Company, made every effort to confirm the position but there were many difficulties arising from the remoteness of the islands and the lack of communications. By five p.m. the worse fears were fully realised and Mr. J.C. Ward, the managing director commenced the distressing task of breaking the news to eight families that their husbands, fathers and sons had been snatched from them by the sea after the "Richard Crofts" had foundered early that morning. The heavy fog which blanketed the port for two days became symbolic of the shocked feelings of townspeople and the grief of the families whose dear ones were lost. Blinds and curtains in many homes were drawn in mourning and every flag in the town, including those on the trawlers in the docks, flew at half-mast.
With the loss of the same company's trawler "Milford Viscount" and her crew of thirteen in April,1950, still fresh in the minds of townspeople, the sudden tragedy of the "Richard Crofts" came as a stunning blow. The "Viscount" disappeared without trace in a gale but this time the news came home that the sea had given up its dead: eight bodies had been recovered, two by crofters on the tiny island of Coll and six by the Barra lifeboat which put to sea to search for survivors. Only four members of the crew had survived the ordeal in the icy, crashing seas around the rock strewn coast:
Deckhand Tom Donovan, 24, Great North Road, Milford.
2nd.Eng. Reginald J. Davies, 74, Cambrian Road, Neyland.
Fireman Haydn M.J ones, 39, Water Street, Pembroke Dock.
Fireman Joe Vliestra, 10, Nubian Crescent, Hakin.
They were taken from ColI to Oban by steamer on Saturday, Davies with a fractured leg as a result of his ordeal on the rocks. At five p.m. that day they left Oban by train for home and it was not until nine twenty the next evening, nearly thirty hours later, that they were met at Johnston station by their relatives and by Mr. and Mrs. Ward and other officials of the company. Still tired-eyed and shaken, 28 year old Deckhand Tommy Donovan was awaiting the arrival of the doctor to examine his feet and legs cut by the rocks when a "Guardian" reporter saw him on Monday morning. He is the elder son of senior Skipper Tom Donovan, D.S.C. (who has been kept ashore for many months through ill health), and Mrs. Donovan. Normally cheerful and lively, Tommy was subdued and sad as he told his story of the disaster.
“It was my fourth trip in the ‘Richard Crofts’, he said. “I had been turned in below since coming off watch at nine p.m. on Thursday night. The first thing 1 knew was when the ship gave a shudder and heeled over. l scrambled onto the deck in the darkness and found that she was listing pretty badly with heavy seas breaking over her. We got the Carley float away and I dived into the sea from the bridge. Haydn Jones pulled me onto the float along with himself and eight others. I never saw the Skipper.”
“We started drifting, there was a heavy swell and the seas swept the second engineer Reg Davies and me away from the raft. We were hurled towards the shore by the swell and managed to scramble onto a rock about three hundred yards off. We were exhausted and cold by this time and huddled together trying to keep warm. We rubbed each other's feet and legs to keep the circulation going but it was getting worse all the time. The seas were washing over us and three times Reg Davies was swept off the rock only to get a hold each time and haul himself back. We were just about all in when it began to get light. I stood up on the rock and saw someone standing on the beach, it was Joe Vliestra. I shouted to him and he pointed to a house meaning that he was going for help. We hung on a while longer and then saw a small crowd of crofters coming over the hill. We shouted again and they spotted us and made signals for us to lie down again on the rock. We waited about twenty minutes and then they fired two rockets with lines attached to us. The first one missed but we scrambled for the second one and caught it. They shouted to us to make it fast so that they could send over a breeches buoy but there was nothing to tie it to. We had to lash the end of the rope around us and were pulled in one by one. I was the first to go. The seas were boiling over the rocks and when Reg Davies was being hauled in he broke his leg as he was smashed against the rocks. They got us to another rock close inshore and then a rowing boat came out and took us to the beach.
“Those men did a fine job. There was a doctor and a nurse with them to attend to us on the beach. I cannot speak too highly of the kindness of the people of Coll, they even gave us their own clothes. We were put to bed under medical attention at the Coll Hotel”.
“As we lay on the rock we were just about giving up when we saw the crofters coming,” said Donovan. “That sight gave us new hope and strength and raised our spirits to hold on longer."
Joe Vliestra was at home with his wife and three of his five children when seen by the “Guardian” reporter on Monday. He too was pale and quiet and was suffering from cuts on his legs and feet. “I was asleep below early on Friday morning when I heard a crash as the ship hit something. We had a gale warning at nine p.m. the previous night and were steaming for shelter. I got onto the deck and saw that we were sinking. It was impossible to get the life boat away with the heavy seas smashing over us. We launched the float and ten of us got into it. Skipper Rich and myself jumped into the sea from the deck and started to swim. The water was icy cold and it was pitch dark. Only the thought of my wife and children kept me going.”
“The Skipper and myself stayed as close together as we could. It was very heavy going and the seas finally separated us, the last thing I heard him shout to me was ‘Go on - I can't make it.’ I managed to get ashore and flopped onto the beach completely exhausted. I saw a house some distance away and tried to stagger towards it. Some crofters found me. I tried to tell them about the others but couldn't speak - only point towards the rocks. They immediately called out the life-saving crew and went to rescue Donovan and Davies from the rock.”
Vliestra also added a tribute to the crofters who saved him. “They were very good to us,” he said. “I am going to write and thank them.”
Amongst those to whom the loss of the “Richard Crofts”, her Skipper and some of her crew holds a personal sorrow, are five Scottish seamen who owe their lives to the courage and seamanship of Skipper H. Rich. The tragedy has revealed a daring rescue carried out by him in the same area only a few weeks ago, then in command of the “Maythorne”, he saved the crew of five of the 114 ton steam lighter “Starfinch” when she sank in a gale. A cutting from a Scottish paper gives a graphic account of the rescue. The “Starfinch”, on passage from Troon for Castle Bay with a cargo of coal, got into difficulties in a heavy gale off the island of Islay. The engine room was flooded and the crew sent up distress signals.
“We were very thankful when the Milford trawler ‘Maythorne’ dashed to our assistance”, said the Skipper of the “Starfinch” , Cyrus Alexander. "The pumps were all out of commission and the five of us, battered almost senseless and soaked to the skin, clung together round the wheelhouse. We could have cried with relief when the "Maythorne" came up. It was impossible for her to get alongside. Her Skipper brought the trawler as near to the "Starfinch" as possible and the "Maythorne" passed a line across and took us in tow." For three hours she stood by whilst the seas pounded both ships, then the "Starfinch" Skipper had to give the order to abandon ship, and the crew of five jumped into the sea with life belts sent across from the trawler and were all safely picked up. “We lost all our belongings”, said Skipper Alexander, “but the Skipper and crew of the ‘Maythorne’ did everything they could to make us comfortable.” By a cruel stroke of fate it was in the very waters from which they had saved five fellow seamen that the Milford Skipper and the men who sailed regularly with him were themselves drowned a few short weeks later.
Thirty eight year old Skipper Harry Rich was not only one of the youngest and most successful masters in the port - he was also one of the most generally popular, unassuming and friendly. He discussed his fine record modestly. Son of the late Skipper Harry Rich, Dewsland Street, (his mother still resides there) the sea was in his blood. He got his master's ticket before the war and from 1939 to 1945 served as a lieutenant in the Royal Navy. He spent many months in Africa and also served in minesweepers. In the last few years he had built up a reputation as a high catching skipper on the company's modern diesel ships, particularly the "Maythorne" which he commanded for over two years. In 1950 he took the trawler "Milford Marquis" on one of the experimental voyages South of the Canaries and returned with a catch of hake which made nearly £5,000. But it was the grounds off the West coast of Scotland that gave Skipper Rich his favourite fishing and it was to that area that he sailed in the "Richard Crofts". He leaves a widow and two young daughters.
The Cook, Mr. Stanley Rees, 131, Robert Street, was forty years old, and a local man. Among the relatives who are comforting Mrs. Rees is her younger sister, Mrs. Arthur James. Mrs. James knows only too well the tragedy brought by the sea, for less than three years ago the managing director of the same company, Mr. J.C. Ward, had to break the news to her that her young husband was lost on the "Milford Viscount". Mr. Rees was an ex-serviceman, having served in the Army throughout the North African and Middle-East Campaign. He had been going to sea in trawlers for many years and had been with Skipper Rich on the "Maythorne". Mr. and Mrs. Rees were married only a few years ago, Mrs. Rees being then a widow with a young family.
Chief Engineer Charles Toombs enjoyed the reputation of being one of the best Chief Engineers in the port. Aged sixty years and a married man with a grown up family, he came to Milford from the East Coast after the First World War. He had been in the Milford fishing fleet since then, sailing regularly throughout the last war.
Mate Charles Hollowell leaves a widow and four stepchildren. He was also a valued member of Skipper H. Rich’s team and they sailed together for some considerable time. He was forty years old and during the war served as a Petty Officer in the Royal Navy.
Apart from a short period ashore when he worked for the Trawler Owners Association, Third Hand George Coe had gone to sea on Milford trawlers all of his life. He was forty two, married and the father of four young sons.
A young widow and five children, the youngest aged five months, are left to mourn Bosun J.C. Owens. He was thirty and was also making his first trip on the “Richard Crofts” having previously served with the Skipper on the "Maythorne".
The two Deckhands were single. John Turrell was a twenty nine year old ex-serviceman, and like the Skipper, was making his first trip on the “Richard Crofts”. He was previously on the “Maythorne”, having sailed with Skipper Rich for a few years. He was a native of Milford. Young Edgar Taylor, aged eighteen, had been going to sea for two years. The son of a Marine Police Officer, he has a brother who goes to sea.
But for the intervention of providence, Bosun L.O. Pugh (Dicky) of Glebelands would have sailed on the ill-fated trawler. He had been a member of the crew of the “Richard Crofts” and was due to go to sea in her again on Saturday. His Naval Reserve papers arrived and he had to stay ashore, Bosun J.C. Owens taking his place. Mr. Pugh's brother was lost on the "Milford Viscount".
A happy curly headed baby boy, 2 years old, plays contentedly in the home of Mrs. N.S. Rees,131, Robert Street, Milford, completely unaware that he is the central figure in a cruel drama of fate. Tommy was born a few months after his father Mr. Arthur James was lost at sea on the “Milford Viscount”. When he was eight months old he was legally adopted by his mother's sister, Mrs. Rees and her husband, Mr. Stanley Rees. The baby was idolised by his adoptee father and returned the loving kindness bestowed on him with equal affection. With the loss of the eight men of the "Richard Crofts" baby Tommy is again fatherless, for Cook Stanley Rees was one of the victims. Too tiny to realise what has happened, the little boy who has been twice orphaned by the sea within years, cannot understand why the grown-ups around him are in tears.
A premonition of the disaster came in a dream to Mrs. Jones, wife of survivor Haydn Jones, Pembroke Dock. Mrs. Jones told the "Guardian" reporter, "I was standing on a rock and felt so miserable and distressed that I could do nothing to help. I saw men battling in the raging seas with others clinging to rafts and wreckage. I felt so sorry for them and I hoped they would be saved. I awoke feeling very frightened and could not go to sleep again." Mrs. Jones said the depressed feeling was still with her next morning and at the breakfast table she told her daughter Jacqueline of her dream, adding, "We will surely hear some bad news soon. It was a strange co-incidence," she went on," for Jacqueline told me that she had also been disturbed in the night by a dream and had seen the ferry boat foundering at Hobbs Point and men swimming in the water." Mrs. Jones recalls that she did not connect the dream with her husband though she felt that in view of the recent rough weather his safety must have been playing on her sub-conscious mind. "However, when Inspector Idwal Evans came and told me that my husband would be home in a few days, l immediately realised that some thing had gone wrong and I told him, ‘You needn't tell me because 1 have dreamt all about it’”.
Mrs. Jones is the mother of seven children aged three to fifteen. She also thanks God that her husband had been spared but her heart went out to those loved ones who had perished. Mr. Jones is a native of the Rhondda Valley and came to Milford with a firm of contractors for the building of Hakin Bridge. Although a carpenter he had a longing to go to sea and had been sailing out of Milford for the past six years. Mr. Jones, who was found on the rocks unconscious some hours after the other survivors were picked up, is still suffering from a badly bruised and lacerated leg.
The setting up of the "Richard Crofts" Relief Fund was announced by the chairman (Clr. Cecil G. Lewis) at Monday’s meeting of Milford Urban Council. "This afternoon," he said, "I met the members of the Trawler Owners Association, the Trades Unions, and all connected with the Fishing Industry and a committee was set up under my chairmanship to manage an appeal for a Distress Fund for the relatives and dependents of those eight brave fishermen who lost their lives." The Fund has been started by a donation of £250 from the Milford Steam Trawling Company, £250 from the Trawler Owners Association, and the unions have already allocated £250 from their fund for the dependents. “Some of the dependents unfortunately have large families and it is up to this town to see those children get adequate education right throughout their lives. We hope the town of Milford will as usual rise to the occasion. I have received a message from the Mayor of Haverfordwest (Clr. Ivor Male) expressing his deepest sympathy with us and promising he will do all he can to help. I know the same will apply to all our neighbouring towns".
Cllr Lewis is chairman of the Appeal Committee, with Mr. Reginald Llewellyn Hancock, A.M.I.N.E. (T.O.A. President) as vice-chairman, Mr. Harold Rossant, O.B.E. (the T.O.A. secretary) as joint hon. secretaries, and Mr. T. K. Jenkerson, hon. treasurer. The committee is representative of the business and social side of the town. Contributions may be sent direct to the Town Hall or to the hon. treasurer, Mr. T. K. Jenkerson, The Docks, Milford. Clr. Cecil Lewis also intimated that the local Flood Relief Fund would be closed this weekend. Before commencing the business at Milford Council on Monday the chairman (Clr. Cecil C. Lewis) referred to the tragedy, which he said had cast a gloom over the whole of the town. All present stood in silence as a token of sympathy and the chairman's Chaplain (Rev. W.U. Jacob) offered a special prayer.
Mr. John Lloyd was in charge of the funeral arrangements, assisted by Mr. Tom Newing, Messrs. G. and W. Adams, and Mr. Ernest Merriman.
The "Richard Crofts" was due to sail from Milford on Friday, Feb 13th, but sailing was delayed until the first tide next day in deference to superstition.
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