It is worthwhile clicking twice to enlarge sections of the notice attached to the rocket rescue cart. You can appreciate the amount of forethought that went into the serious business of saving lives at sea. There is even a whip for the horse. Speed was essential. The apparatus shed stood in the yard beside the old Coast Guard station, where the RNLI lifeboat house now stands. The pole itself has decamped to the bandstand to become, appropriately, a memorial to all those lost at sea along this coast.
Colonel Congreve pioneered the use of rockets in the British army. Some useful lessons were learnt in the wars in India. Congreve saw the rich possibilities for using rockets to dismember people at a distance, as at Waterloo in 1815. The science has progressed to multiple rocket launchers, to guided missiles, to intercontinental ballistic missiles and rockets to the Moon.
In 1807 Captain George Manby of the Royal Artillery at Great Yarmouth developed a system of firing a mortar carrying a line to a stricken ship, using a weapon of war to save lives. A Cornish Man, Trengrouse , adapted the process by using rockets. The rocket rescue became the more common method. It must have been like divine intervention to those in peril at sea, a veritable deus ex machina. Survivors were winched ashore by breeches or sling buoy. I saw a demonstration on a fine Sunday afternoon a long time ago. There was a band playing at the bandstand. I doubt if they played “He flies through the air with the greatest of ease.” The daring young man was Des McDonagh, a rather dashing character, game for a challenge. The breeches buoy dragged through the water, a minor inconvenience when set against the enormous benefit of a life saved. I tried to imagine how it would have been in a storm, in darkness, when the waves surge over The Grey Mare Rock. Even Des might have been daunted.
You may have noticed the stump of a similar pole at The Captains, with two eyelets set into the rock to anchor the line. This would have been all bloody fine, if the rocket team could have got anywhere near the pole to receive the survivors. An easterly gale would have made this problematic. It is to the enormous credit of the rocket volunteers, that the system persisted for almost two centuries until the advent of helicopters, the ultimate deus ex machina. But these people are not gods. The recent tragedy at Blacksod reminds us that they are exceptional people who go out in all conditions, to risk their lives, without hesitation, in the service of others. It’s a far cry from a sunny Sunday afternoon and a demonstration of a quaint and antiquated rescue apparatus, but it is nonetheless a part of the same long tradition of selfless service to those in need.
Click twice on image.