The 110th anniversary of a tragic day in the maritime history of Flamborough has been commemorated with a poignant ceremony in the village.
Two cobles were lost on that fateful day of February 5th 1909, and six fishermen drowned within sight of the shore. This is a story of true heroism and one which has been passed down through the generations of local families.
There was no indication the weather would deteriorate so rapidly and with such ferocity on the morning of 5th February 1909. Some 40 or 50 fishermen had put off in their sailing cobles to the inshore grounds but by 0800 the wind had veered quickly from south-west round to north and a full storm developed. The force of the gale whipped up the sea into a frenzy.
The cobles began to run for the North Landing but one coble, the Gleaner, was passing the West Scar and almost safely into the haven of the North Sea Landing, when she was struck by a big sea and knocked completely down. Sea after sea struck the coble and she was overwhelmed, her crew of John Cross and his two sons Robert and Richard were thrown into the raging water.
It is recorded in the archives of local newspapers that both Flamborough lifeboats were launched that day. The No.1 Station boat Forester, although double manned, with twenty men pulling on the oars instead of the usual ten, could not get more than fifty yards from the beach.
Another local coble, Two Brothers, crewed by Melchior Chadwick, Tom Leng Major and George Gibbon, had been running for the haven along with the Gleaner. When it was seen she had been overwhelmed, the Two Brothers ran up alongside and with great difficulty the three men in the water were grabbed by the crew of the Two Brothers.
It was feared by those who witnessed the event from the shore that the Two Brothers could not survive in the midst of that boiling, raging sea. In an instance of getting the three fishermen aboard, a huge sea came up and hit the Two Brothers turning her head into the cliff. Another gigantic sea then rose and totally swamped the coble. All six men were thrown into the water and in a very short time they had disappeared beneath the tumultuous waves.
Flamborough fisherman, Robert Knaggs, who had been in his coble Felicity that same day, and had got ashore earlier, said that the Two Brothers and her crew would have landed safely if they had not gone to the aid of the Gleaner. As soon as they saw the coble in distress they went to it without any hesitation whatsoever.
The funerals of four of the six drowned fishermen were held on the 8th February 1909. The four coffins of George Gibbon (34), Tom Leng Major (18), John Cross (44) and Richard Cross (17) were carried by local fishermen to the Parish Church of St Oswald. The body of Melchior Chadwick was recovered from the sea near King and Queen rocks on 16th March 1909. All five fishermen were buried in the local cemetery and each grave marked with identical headstones. The body of Robert Cross was never recovered.
A monument, paid for by public subscriptions, was erected in Chapel Street, Flamborough as a fitting tribute to the heroism and bravery of the crew of the Two Brothers. This was unveiled on the 19th August 1909 by the Mayoress of Bridlington Mrs C G Southcott, who had inaugurated the fund for its erection. Together with the six names of the fishermen who perished that day is the inscription ‘Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends’.
One member of the Flamborough Lifeboat crew that day vowed that he would devote the remainder of his life to the saving of life at sea. His name was Robert Cross, brother and uncle of the ill fated crew of the coble Gleaner. He became a famous Coxswain of the Humber Lifeboat and one of the most outstanding and decorated lifeboat coxswains of the Second World War. During his service with the Royal National Lifeboat Institution at Spurn Point, he won the George Medal and was awarded two Gold Medals, three Silver Medals and two Bronze Medals by the Institution.
This year a wreath was placed at the monument once again to commemorate the anniversary of the tragedy and was laid jointly by Stuart Cross and Trudi Traves, Their Great Grandfather was John Cross of the coble Gleaner. Stuart is helmsman of the present Flamborough Lifeboat.