A BAND of heroines who helped save 11 lives in a shipwreck off the North East coast more than 70 years ago will be remembered this week.
The volunteer women launchers at Newbiggin-by-the-Sea in Northumberland won a place in history when they pulled a lifeboat a mile over rugged moorland so it could be safely launched to rescue stricken sailors in the early hours of February 2, 1940.
The drama unfolded when the Belgian coaster Eminent ran aground north of the town’s Church Point in a blizzard and storm-lashed seas at 4am – and the wives and daughters of local fishermen followed tradition by helping with the rescue.
They dragged the 32ft lifeboat from the boathouse across the beach, but the weather made it impossible to launch from the usual spot, as icy waves drove it back to the shore.
The only option was for the frozen women to help the men, pull it a mile across moorland in pitch darkness to a spot where the sea might be calm enough to launch it. They pulled it over the rough ground, and it was put into the sea, with the crew bringing the 11 sailors on board the Eminent back alive.
Now the women’s bravery will be celebrated on Friday, when Newbiggin Maritime Centre hosts a special tribute evening. Starting at 7.30pm, it features local folk band Worky Ticket, who will play a new song – Angels of the Storm – written by Chris Smith in honour of the lifeboat launchers.
Also appearing is Susan Robertson, the granddaughter of one of the original women launchers, who will sing the melody Blow The Wind Southerly.
Yesterday local lifeboat volunteer Richard Martin, who chairs the Newbiggin Heritage Partnership, said: “We thought it would be nice to remember this event, near the anniversary of the rescue, as part of the events programme at the maritime centre.
“This rescue happened during wartime.”
Newbiggin’s women launchers twice received official RNLI awards for bravery, in 1927 and 1940. In 1941, the London Illustrated led with the headline “Newbiggin breeds Britain’s toughest women.”
Wives and daughters in the town were used to launching and hauling their men’s fishing boats up the beach, and did the same when the lifeboat was called into action. When news of the 1940 rescue broke, the women found themselves at the centre of a media storm, with their faces and story plastered across newspapers and magazines.
Tickets for Friday evening cost £6 and are available on the night or by calling 01670 811 951.