IT’S still the worst lifeboat disaster on record. And 125 years later, the 13 members of St Annes lifeboat crew – many from neighbouring Lytham – who died in the Mexico disaster, will be remembered in a special service.
The St Annes men – along with 14 from Southport – lost their lives as they fought to save those aboard the German barque Mexico on December 9, 1886.
Lytham’s lifeboat crew returned with all 12 – but their counterparts from Southport and St Annes were lost.
David Forshaw, from Lytham St Annes RNLI, said: “This was, and still is, the worst disaster to befall the Royal National Lifeboat Institution in its 187-year history. Some 27 volunteer lifeboat crewmen lost their lives that night, attempting to save 12 strangers.”
The Lytham lifeboat launched, and with great difficulty managed to rescue the 12 men on board the stricken vessel. They landed safely back at Lytham at 3.15am on December 10, to loud cheering from a large crowd.
The Southport lifeboat put to sea through tremendous breakers. She reached a position close to the Mexico when she was capsized by an enormous wave. The lifeboat was washed ashore, but only two of her crew of 16 survived.
The St Annes lifeboat set out into the darkness, and was not seen again until she was found upturned on Southport beach the following day, her crew of 13 lost.
Lytham St Annes Lifeboat operations manager Andrew Fallow said: “Bearing in mind this happened in 1886 – just 11 years after the foundation stone was laid in St Annes – there will not have been a lot of people living there.
“Even though the Lytham crew got back with the crew of the Mexico, there were a few from Lytham who perished on the St Annes boat.
“The lifeboat is like one big family. It’s unthinkable for someone to die, or get badly hurt, now. If one gets hurt, we all feel it. It’s the same for them in Southport – it was pretty grim, really.”
Lifeboat bosses are adamant the Mexico disaster will remain the largest loss of life ever recorded in the RNLI.
Mr Fallow added: “There are a few reasons why something like that is unlikely to ever happen again. They launched three boats to The Mexico, but each of the three didn’t know the other two had gone out.
“Now, with radio communications, if one goes out, the others know not to.
“The boats are massively different now, the lifejackets and personal protection equipment mean a disaster like that should never happen again.
“A modern lifeboat, with its windows shut and doors sealed, should self-right after a few seconds, if it’s thrown upside down in the sea.”
And while conditions can be rough on the seas for lifeboatmen now – they are nothing compared to the extremes their 19th century predecessors had to endure.
Frank Kilroy – who has carried out every role at Lytham St Annes Lifeboat, and is now Lifeboat Visits Officer – said: “It would’ve been very hard for them. The worst part was getting the boat into the water with the horse and carriage. They’d have to really row to get away, while the waves pushed them progressively back to the shore.”
Mr Fallow added: “The majority of the crew back then will have been fishermen. They will have spent their days rowing and sailing. It would have been extremely unpleasant, so I have total respect for all of them back then.”
A memorial service will be held on Sunday at 10.30am in St John’s Church on East Beach, Lytham.
All are welcome to attend and pay tribute to the volunteers – the champions of their community – who lost their lives on that ill-fated night.