Wrexham auction win linked to RNLI crew’s Rohilla rescue bid

Reporter:

Phil Robinson

A NAVAL historian from Wrexham has made a scoop purchase at an auction in the town.

John Lawton, of Pentre Maelor, reckons he paid a bargain price of £54 for a pair of binoculars which have a direct link to one of the worst maritime disasters of the 20th century.

He is now planning to present them to the museum in Yorkshire commemorating the tragedy of hospital ship HMHS Rohilla which happened just weeks into the First World War.

The Rohilla, a former passenger liner, was conscripted at the outbreak of war to carry wounded troops from the battlefields back to the UK.

She was travelling down the east coast of Britain from her base at Queensferry in Scotland to Dover in October, 1914, when gale-force winds forced her to run aground and sink just off the port of Whitby in North Yorkshire.

Eighty-five people lost their lives in the wreck despite a 50-hour battle by six lifeboats to rescue survivors.

One of the lifeboats involved in the desperate operation was the one from Teeside which had battled through mountainous seas to reach the disaster site.

The Teeside crew almost perished themselves when their boat was sucked upwards by massive waves and dashed against the sea bed, seriously damaging her hull.

Miraculously the boat survived and managed to limp back to Teeside where she was repaired and returned to service.

To mark the bravery of her crew the Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI) presented a set of binoculars to their secretary, a Mr Bacon.

It was this piece of history which came under the hammer at Wingetts auction house in Wrexham. Mr Lawtown, who has written books and does talks on naval history, heard the binoculars would be coming up and asked his friend and colleague, Llangollen military historian Peter Stubbs, to bid for them. They were knocked down to him for £45 plus commission.

Mr Lawton, who is treasurer of the RNLI’s Llangollen branch, said: “The lifeboat museum up in Whitby has a special display commemorating the disaster, which includes a diorama and a collection of artefacts connected to it.

“I go up to the town quite a lot and have a number of friends there.

“I thought it would be nice to add the binoculars to the display.

“I think I was quite lucky to get them and the price wasn’t as high as I expected.

“They were made by Dollands of London and are still in good condition.

“They were put up for sale by someone in Wolverhampton but I’m not sure how they got there from Teeside.

“It might have been via a family member of Mr Bacon.”

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