Exhibition to commemorate daring rescue off Cork coast

Diver from Gerry and Rianne Smyth's dive school passes one of the two boilers on the wreck of the Alondra, which ran aground in fog  on 29 Dec 1916 off Kedge Island, West Cork

A daring rescue by the crew of a Baltimore lifeboat of 23 people from the steamship Alondra, which was wrecked off the West Cork village almost a century ago, is to feature in a major RNLI touring exhibition commemorating the centenary of the First World War.

The exhibition, Hope in the Great War, is funded by Arts Council England and will honour the courage and bravery of lifeboat crews who risked their lives to save others during the war.

While a lot of people will be familiar with the sinking of the Lusitania off the Cork coast in 1915, not as many will be aware of the Alondra rescue which took place in Baltimore a year later.

The RNLI established a lifeboat base in Baltimore in 1913 but its official opening was delayed by the war until 1919.

The SS Alondra was wrecked on the Kedge Rock, off Baltimore, on Dec 29, 1916. Sixteen of its crew left in one of the ship’s boats, but drowned before reaching the shore.

Archdeacon John Richard Hedge Becher, who was honorary secretary of Baltimore RNLI, and some volunteers, launched a boat but failed to reach the vessel.

They returned to Baltimore before setting out again after some of the ship’s crew had made the rock.

The lifeboat crew failed to reach the vessel again and had to return to shore.

When daylight broke, the RNLI crew again set out with rocket apparatus.

About the same time, two Royal Navy trawlers arrived on the scene and the efforts of all saved 23 survivors — some of whom were lowered down a 150ft cliff.

RNLI silver medals for gallantry were awarded to Archdeacon Becher and Lt Sanderson for their role in the rescue.

This dramatic rescue has now been chosen to feature alongside five other RNLI lifeboat services that took place in communities across Ireland and Britain.

Opening next February at the Henry Blogg Museum in Norfolk, Hope in the Great War will start a four-year tour around RNLI museums, lifeboat stations, and other museums.

The RNLI has encouraged the people of Baltimore to make contact if they have memories, photographs, letters, or artifacts connected to the rescue in the hope that it may be included in the exhibition.

"The outstanding efforts by Baltimore’s RNLI volunteers to save lives in the First World Ward will now be given a voice," said Becky Fletcher, RNLI heritage project co-ordinator.

"Although little details are known about the SS Alondra rescue, finding any connections would undoubtedly be of further inspiration."

People can contact Rebecca_Fletcher@rnli.org.uk or call RNLI Henry Blogg Museum on 01263 511294.

Meanwhile, Baltimore RNLI is teaming up with members of the Baltimore Amateur Drama Group to create a short film about the rescue for the exhibition.

Drama group spokesman, Olan Marten, said they were looking forward to honouring the brave men involved in the Alondra rescue.