A rare opportunity to secure a piece of Baltimore Lifeboat history came to light earlier last month. An extremely scarce and very fine Royal National Lifeboat Institution Silver Gallantry Medal, George V, awarded in 1917 to the Venerable Archdeacon John Richard Hedges Becher, for the gallant rescue of survivors from the SS Alondra came up for sale. The medal was being sold from a private collection and had previously been on public display at the base of Lagan Search & Rescue – the independent lifeboat service for Belfast. Donations to defray the costs of medal purchase are very welcome as is any additional information concerning the fate of Archdeacon Becher – please contact Tom Bushe.
The exact cause of the wrecking of the Alondra is not entirely clear. What is known is that the ship ran aground on Kedge Rock. After its grounding sixteen of the Alondra’s crew were able to get aboard one of three ship’s lifeboats,
but ended up drowning before they could reach safety. Another man died on board. Meanwhile, the Archdeacon John Richard Hedges
Becher, who was serving as the Honorary Secretary of the Baltimore (RNLI), set out to re
scue the stranded crew. He failed to reach the Alondra on the first try, then again on the second. When the sun rose, they set out a third time. In total, 23 men were rescued from the steamboat with the assistance of Royal Navy trawlers. The RNLI awarded Silver Medals for Gallantry to both Archdeacon Becher and to Lieutenant Sanderson for assisting with t
he rescue. In 1913, the RNLI had established a lifeboat base in Baltimore, which could have been of assistance in rescuing the crew of the Alondra. Unfortunately, the outbreak of the Great War delayed the official opening of the base until 1919.
This famous rescue has been the subject of a recent film as part of the RNLI’s commemoration of the Great War. The film was made in Baltimore and features lifeboat crew alongside a cast drawing from talent in Baltimore Amateur Drama. The film was last screened in May 2015 in the National Library of Ireland.
John Richard Hedges Becher’s death was announced in the Times on the 7th May 1929. The announcement read “Deaths - At Nakuru Hospital Kenya, after surgery, John R H Becher, Archdeacon of Ross, father of Mar
y Littleton, Ballyheary, Ashford, Co Wickford & Norah Trench, Molo, Kenya. The Southern Star, on the 11th May 1929, also reported “….the death this week of the Venerable Archdeacon Becher….He was the son of the Late Michael Becher of Carriganear, Maulbrack, Skibbereen, and subsequently of Ardralla House, Newcourt, Skibbereen and he was nephew of the late Mr John R H Becher of Lough Ine House, and cousin-German of The Rev Henry Becher, ex Dean of Ross. The late Archdeacon ministered in Youghal…to Castletownsend…to Baltimore…to Bantry…he was instrumental in bringing a Life Boat to Baltimore…for his health he went to Kenyan Colony. Everybody liked & most people loved him.”
On Sunday May 10th at 16:50 Baltimore Lifeboat responded to a distress call from a fishing boat that had broken down approx. 40 nautical miles south of Baltimore. The vessel was Irish registered at Sligo with a displacement of approx. 100 tonnes, Mizen Head Coast Guard reported 5 people on board at the time that the alert was raised. The all-weather lIfeboat Alan Massey was launched at 17:00 under the command of coxswain K. Cotter, with crew, J. Smith, P. Collins , K. Collins, A. Bushe, B. McSweeney and G. Sheehy as crew. The lifeboat proceeded south and directly into the prevailing swell which made progress slow, about 14 to 17 knots. Wind was from the South Force 5-6, visibility moderate, sea state rough to very rough (2.5-4.0m and 4.0-6.0m) the swell being predominately 3 to 4 metres but at times 5 metres. The distressed vessel was sighted at at 19:35. The lifeboat established a tow at 19:55 shortly after arriving on scene. The return journey was a lot smoother than the journey out and averaged about 6.5knots, making the shelter of Baltimore Harbour at at 02:15 on Monday morning. A falling tide delayed berthing, but eventually the fishing vessel was secured at the pier at 03:20. Coxswain Kieran Cotter commented afterwards ‘it was a difficult shout because of the distance from shore and the weather conditions, its great to have such an experienced crew who performed excellently under arduous conditions”
On 25 May a flare was sighted in Baltimore Harbour at 2:15. The inshore lifeboat was launched immediately under the command of Helm Jerry Smith and proceeded directly towards the the Cove where a 10 metre yacht which had been attempting to reach her own mooring had fouled her propellor. There were three adult males on board at the time. The lifeboat took a rope from the bow of the yacht to the mooring. Once secured the lifeboat returned to station, the whole operation being completed in 45 minutes. On board the Alice and Charles were Helm Jerry Smith with crew Youen Jacob & John Kearney. Slip crew: Tom Kelly, Rianne Smith & Sean McCarthy
On 20 May a joint exercise was held on
combining the efforts of RNLI Baltimore, RNLI Union Hall, Toe Head Coastguard. Schull Community Inshore Rescue & Civil Defence. This was a valuable exercise in anticipation of a busy Summer season when so many people take to the water to enjoy the great boating areas of West Cork. We encourage all boaters to take care and stay safe. We’re always here to help but prevention is the best cure! Respect the Water.