Tyneside Men Saving Life at Sea

First World War heroes didn’t just appear on the battle field. We recently discovered a small object in our collection that tells the fascinating story of some of these home front heroes: a Tynemouth Medal, awarded for bravery in saving life at sea.

Tynemouth Medal awarded to Thomas Cummins – wrongly spelled ‘Cummings’

Front of Tynemouth Medal, showing King Edward’s Bay, Tynemouth

This particular medal was awarded to Thomas Cummins, who was part of the crew of the Tynemouth lifeboat Henry Vernon. On 31 October 1914, this motor boat set out for Whitby, a difficult, almost nine hour trip in darkness through a storm, with no shore lights as they were all switched off because of the war. They undertook this difficult journey to rescue the crew of hospital ship Rohilla, which was shipwrecked while collecting wounded soldiers. The crew of the Henry Vernon managed to rescue the 51 survivors remaining on the ship.

Life guards trying to get a line on the wreck of the Rohilla, October 1914

Back at home, the members of the crew were paid a tribute in North Shields. All six were awarded a variety of medals, including Thomas Cummins who received a silver medal from the Tynemouth Medal Trust.  It is a rare medal, with less than a hundred awarded over the span of a century. The gold medal is even rarer, with only four recipients.

The Tynemouth Medal Trust was founded in 1891, instigated by American lawyer E.B. Convers. He had been in Tynemouth during the challenging rescue of the crew of the Peggy in October of that year, and was so impressed that he wanted to give tangible expression to his admiration. He had the silver medal designed and funded the Tynemouth Medal Trust in honour of the gallantry of the men of the village. He wished the medals to be awarded to “those who had done an ‘heroic deed’ – in the widest acceptance of the phrase – either within the ebb and flow of the Tyne or its adjacent sea or by Tynesiders on a foreign sea, or by foreigners in local waters.”

‘Tynemouth Priory Ruins’ by Constance Thompson, 1917. This painting shows how King Edward’s Bay would have looked during the First World War. (TWCMS: F9353)

The front of the medal designed by Mr. Convers shows King Edward’s Bay in Tynemouth as it would have looked at the time, before the Pen Bal Crag lighthouse was demolished. The reverse was left blank, to allow for the inscription of the recipient’s name.

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