Remembering sailors buried in Britain’s longest grave

Almost 110 years ago this month, the ancestors of those who continue to risk their lives today to keep us safe at sea honored the heroes of 1914 who went to save the crew of a doomed ship .

The German four-masted barque Hera was in transit from Chile laden with nitrate but its captain had relied on dead reckoning for three days due to bad weather and a faulty stopwatch.

Heavy weather somewhere off Lizard Point forced the captain to shorten the sail and alter course in an attempt to salvage St Anthony’s lighthouse. Unfortunately, the Hera hit the rocks near Gull Rock in Veryan Bay off the Roseland Peninsula.

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The ship fired distress rockets but the bark settled by the head before turning back to port, capsizing the lifeboats and throwing the crew into freezing seas.

Rough seas flooded the sailboat’s deck, forcing the first mate and five crew members up into the rigging where they climbed onto a jigger mast and remained for three hours.

It was 1 a.m. on February 1, 1914, when Falmouth’s honorary lifeboat secretary, Mr Lelean, received a message from the coastguard station that rockets had been seen two miles south-south -west of Portloe.

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At the time, he wrote in the service report: “I immediately rushed to the helmsman and ordered him to launch the boat. At 1.35 a.m. the first warning mortars were fired – at 1.55 a.m. the boat left the slipway.

“As soon as the police messenger gave me the message I asked him to inform the manager of the Falmouth Towage Company what was going on. He sent the tugs Victor and Triton.

The Falmouth lifeboat Bob Newbon under the command of coxswain Samuel Hingston with a crew of 15 men was towed to the scene by the harbor tug Perran.

Unfortunately, Hera’s first mate had perished, but the lifeboat saved the other five crew members.

The bodies of the remaining crew were recovered and buried in what historians consider to be Britain’s longest grave in Veryan Cemetery. The tomb itself is over 30 m (98 ft) long.

The extraordinary 30-meter burial in Veryan

After the rescue, helmsman Hingston wrote: “En route we encountered rough seas. About a mile out to sea we slipped the Perran and went between Gull Rock and Nare Head to speak with the coast guards who were on shore.

“Suddenly I heard a whistle. We hoisted our anchor and set off. Then we saw a spot on our leeward bow and later we made out five men hanging from a spar. We had a hard time rescuing the men because of the rough seas. Our archer William Leuty seriously crushed his finger during the rescue.

“In high winds and rough seas, five men were rescued from the top mast in what was later described by the RNLI as a commendable rescue.”

Gail Stribley, whose ancestor was part of this crew of lifeboat heroes, posted on social media: “Such brave men, including my great-grandfather, Tom Pollard.

“My grandmother told me the story when I was a child. She recalled how the crew members’ hands were raw “like liver” after rowing and how they had soaked them in salt water to help them heal.

A Falmouth RNLI spokesperson praised the courage of the current crew’s ancestors, adding: “This month (February) we remember the 19 crew members who lost their lives after their ship, the four-masted German Barque Hera, struck rocks near Gull Rock in Veryan Bay 108 years ago.”

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