On the night of Saturday 2nd April 1966 the Anzio 1 ran aground at Donna Nook, with the subsequent loss of 13 lives.
Prior to 1961, when she was brought by the Thames and Medway Navigation Co., the boat had been named Lochinvar, and had been in service for about 40 years as a Royal Mail Steamer, sailing in the relatively sheltered waters of the Sound of Mull. Since 1961, the boat, now named Anzio 1 had been sailing across the Thames Estuary between Southend Pier and Sheerness. Geoff Little whose family were fishermen at Southend (his grandfather was Life boat skipper), remembers a holiday makers sailing for day trips to Sheerness, when he helped out in the family business during his school holidays.
In 1964, a group of Scotsmen living in London, recognised the old Lochinvar and arranged to buy her, with the intention of returning to Scotland and making their living by running a service between Inverness and invergordon. They were all keen sailors in their spare time and had serviced time in either the Merchant or Royal Navy. The Anzio 1 was repainted and fitted with bar and cafeteria to supply refreshment to the passengers taking the fifty mile round cruise for 25/-(£1.25). The Board of Trade issued a certificate for the boat to carry 261 passengers on its Cromerty Cruises.
In 1966 the new owners recruited a crew from amongst their sailing friends and relatives, many of whom worked as telegraphers at Electra House, London. The Captain was a Master Mariner from Oban and on Friday 1st April at 8.30 pm with a crew of 13 the Anzio left Tilbury to make the journey to Inverness. The number 13 is unlucky and sailors claim it is unlucky to rename a boat or sail on a Friday. A Board of Trade surveyor had declared the life saving and fire fighting equipments, lights, signals, radio receiver to be adequate. However, he stressed the importance of listening to the BBC weather forecasts as the boat must be put into port in bad weather and no passengers or cargo could be carried. When the boat sailed there were three vehicles aboard, plus household effects of the owners, equipment necessary for future passengers including hundreds of life jackets and seats.
At 11.23pm on Saturday in sleet and rain with a North Easterly force 8 the Anzio 1 was spotted about 1 ¼ miles off Donna Nook by Coastguard Ivan Cartwright. Despite his signalling the boat continued to head for the shore, and a red distress flare was fired at 11.33pm. Low water had been at 10pm so the tide was a long way out when Alan Loughton alerted by the flare attempted to reach the vessel. It took him about 20 minutes to reach the sea then he waded out until he was in about 4ft of water. He got within about 30 yards of the boat and shouted to the 5 men who appeared on deck to “Jump for it”! He could not hear what they shouted because of the noise of the wind and he had to return to the shore as he time was coming in fast.
Meanwhile, alerted by the maroons, the team of Auxiliary Coastguards lead by Station Officer Craigie, had assembled at the station. Ron Hasthorpe one of the team, remembers it was near midnight and he was in bed. There was a routine for summoning each other, including Cab Tacey and Reg Lowis and his wife always filled him a small bottle of brandy. Everyone mustered except Reg Humberstone who somehow missed the signal.
The team were well rehearsed and according to the bearing taken by Ivan Cartwight the boat was N.E from the look out. It was pitch black when they arrived at the waters edge, about 150 yards from a ‘black shape' A parachute flare provided brief illumination and torch light signals from the boat indicated there were 13 on board.
Ron waded out with S/O Craigie until they were waist deep holding the box containing the line as high as possible. As expected, the line fell short of the boat. The sea was very rough, and extremely cold but they returned to the beach for another box and waded back for a 2nd attempt but with the wind against them there was little hope of getting the line aboard. Norman Stubbs warned them of the dangers of the incoming tide and they had to retreat (even if a line had been landed it was doubtful whether the crew would of seen it or been able to drag the heavy ropes of the breeches buoy aboard, as the boat was listing heavily towards the sea).
At about this time the Humber lifeboat arrived, but unable to get close to the Anzio 1 because of the 15ft waves. No response was made to the lifeboats signals, so it went south to search for survivors. The Coastguard Landrover from Mablethorpe with a search light on and more powerful rescue equipment arrived but it was driven back by the tide.
Reg Lewis and Charlie Bocock went south along the beach to search for survivors as by now the waves were breaking over the boat. They soon found the first man, but could not revive him. There was little chance that anyone could survive for many minutes in such a cold sea. By day break the sea was calm. The beach was littered with debris and ten bodies had been recovered (the bodies of the Captain and two others were recovered later).
The disaster left everyone with a feeling of helplessness and sorrow, that despite all the bravery and efforts so many lives had been lost, so close to the shore. Angeline Aston remembers her mother frying bacon and crying and her dad (Alan Loughton) being very upset. The whole village was saddened.
The following Christmas the W.I. organised a whist drive to send a cash present to the children of the Anzio victims. They each received £2.10/- (£2.50) this was quite alot of money beer was 1/6 (7p) and a 1st class stamp was 4d(2p). Mrs Capp still has the thank you letters they wrote to say what they had brought with the money. Some bought shoes, or good pens for school.
At the inquest the coroner did not apportion any blame. Many questions still remain unanswered, but the one constant and undeniable factor will always be the might of the sea. As Geoff Humberstone says ‘The North Sea doesn’t run like other seas it jumps up anywhere’.
Chris Larking March 1996
After they’ve gone – this poem was by Susan Slinn (age 12) whose father died on April 2nd 1966 at Donna Nook
When things seem to go slow
And the time does drag
Or waiting, waiting for some bad news
Then suddenly, suddenly like a bombshell dropped
The place is in confusion –
I hear word, father drowned
No survivors, brave shame and so on
I realise suddenly, it can’t be true,
My father dead, I recoil back
My mind in a whirl
Tears come to my eyes,
Ill never see my father again
On this world.
Crew listed below:
Crew of Anzio from ‘Anzio 1 Disaster’ by Geoffrey P. Jones.
Harold Balfour Fotheringham
Alex Mitchell Snr.
Alex Mitchell Jnr.