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  • Claire Jordan

The Nayland Nine

When on 30th May 1940, a small Margate boat named Friend of All Nations set out, along with hundreds of other Little Ships to help snatch the British Expeditionary Force out of the jaws of death at Dunkirk, she already had an illustrious forebear.

In the 19th century, surfboats were sort-of lifeboats maintained and manned by a town’s civil authority and they often worked alongside the usually better-equipped RNLI’s lifeboats on station close by.

In the dark chaos of an early December storm in 1897, a cargo ship named Persian Empire collided with a steamship before running aground on the far side of the treacherous Margate Sands.

Both the town’s surfboat, the first Friend of All Nations, and the RNLI’s lifeboat, Quiver, set out into the gale to try to reach the crew of the stricken ship.

Friend of All Nations was the first to launch, some hours before dawn on 2nd December.

Already over the course of her 21 years of service, she had saved almost 400 lives, but on this day, it was not to be.

As she approached the harbour entrance on her way to open water, a huge roller hit her full-square, and she heeled over, her mast now horizontal.

A second massive wave hit her almost immediately after the first, filling her sail with water and capsizing her altogether.

Nine of the thirteen brave men went into the freezing sea and were lost.

Three of the crew managed to cling to the upturned hull, with a fourth trapped underneath it, as the seas rose again to smash the little boat onto the nearby Nayland Rocks.

Somehow, these four men survived, although you can see the ordeal sitting heavily on them in this photo.

The RNLI’s Quiver meanwhile had reached Persian Empire and her crew was saved.

The nine who died were: William Philpott Cook (aged 54) and his sons William (28) and Robert (26), Henry Brockman (50), John Dike (41), George Ladd (38), Edward Crunden (31), William Gill (35) and the Superintendent of the Margate Ambulance Association, Charles Troughton, aged 40.

Pictured above are the four survivors: (left to right) Joe Epps, Harry Brockman (son of Henry, who was lost) Robert Ladd (brother to George, also lost) and John Gilbert (20).

More than a thousand people turned out for the funeral of the nine Margate men who’d given their lives in the Friend of All Nations and a subscription was raised to help their families.

Money poured in from all over the country and from as far away as the US, South Africa and Australia.

Even Queen Victoria contributed.

The fund was able to pay for a huge memorial stone to be erected over the drowned men’s communal grave in the town cemetery.

It also funded the splendid memorial statue on Marine Terrace overlooking the sands, which takes the form of a huge figure of a lifeboatman shading his eyes, scrutinizing the sweep of the sea before him.

He must surely have been watching as the Friend of All Nations’ 1940-namesake head bravely out for the Dunkirk beaches.

Lest We Forget the extraordinary valour of all those, then and now, who risk (and lose) their lives for the sake of strangers who need them.

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