My Memories Of The Hospital Ship "Rohilla"
Wrecked Off Whitby On October 30th I914.
The following is a personal recollection that was included in a wooden cabinet I recently purchased (see right).
I was nearly fourteen, attending, Cholmley School, Church Street, Whitby. It was our long weekend holiday - then called 'Teachers' Rest'.
Friday, October 30th was wild and stormy; when I came downstairs my mother told me to get on with my breakfast, she was going out, there was a ship ashore and she was anxious to know if all on board were safe.
I soon had my coat & scarf on after she had gone and went down on Tate Hill Pier; crowds of anxious people were in the street and on the sands.
I met my cousin, Lizzie Leadley; we went on the sand and under the Spa Ladder on the scaur. People were battling with the wind all along the scaur, but were unable to help at all. One of our lifeboats was badly holed and lying useless among the rocks. Rockets were falling short of the crippled ship.
We couldn't get back the way we had came as the tide was rising rapidly, we had to get on to the Nab at Saltwick. I remember Dr Raw giving my cousin and me a hand-up - he was wearing a woolly hat. We went up the steps cut in the cliff side. The only times I had used these steps before was to get down to Mrs Agar's tea gardens in summer time. There was a stone building which Mrs Agar opened up each day and sold sweets, lemonade, etc. She would also supply a pot of tea. If we bought anything from her we were entitled to use the swings. She went up the 199 steps from the town and along the cliff through the fields each day until she was well in her eighties.
That weekend, October - November 1914, those steps were, turned into a slippery slope with rescuers carrying stretchers bearing men who had been pulled from the sea, it must have been a very difficult task.
The cliff top was lined with people night and day; a searchlight was played from the cliff on the stricken ship.By Saturday afternoon we could only see bridge of the Rohilla with the survivors clinging there. Many men had jumped off the wreck. Others had been washed overboard as the ship broke up. Brave local men went in the raging sea to help the men ashore. One I knew was Mr George Peart, a bricklayer by trade, a very strong swimmer. His son, George, who would be about nine at the time, told me he remembered seeing his mother bathe his father's torn and scratched back; drowning men had clung so desperately to him. Mr Peart was awarded a Silver Medal and Certificate; which his family still treasure.
All our neighbours stayed up each night keeping huge fires burning and warm blankets ready to comfort any rescued and rescuers.
There was rejoicing on the Sunday morning when the Tyneside lifeboat brought the last of the survivors ashore.
Our school was on the East side of the harbour and on the following Wednesday we were lined up by the railings in our playground to watch the horse-drawn drays bearing flower-covered coffins pass along the West Pier Road, followed by a crowd of mourners, on their way to Whitby Cemetery.
For weeks afterwards our sands were strewn with wreckage, crutches, Lysol, bales of cotton-wool, tins of food, tubs of butter and broken up wood of every description.
One day, during the following summer, a notice in Hornes shop window told us that a sister ship to the "Rohilla" would be passing Whitby at a certain time. Some of the rescued medical staff were on board. People stood on the piers and cliffs to see her pass.
It was a beautiful day, the sky and sea a vivid blue. The ship looked lovely with the sun shining on her white paint and red cross. The sight brought tears to the eyes of those who watched. She signalled "Greetings to Whitby”.
(Recollections of Mrs D L Jackson on the 70th Anniversary of the wreck of the "Rohilla")
© Colin Brittain 1999 - 2011