Remember December '59

"Remember the gallant men who drowned. The Lifeboat Mona was her name."

"The Lifeboat Mona" is a tune is on a double-disc "Best of the Dubliners" that we play in the car a lot. The kids, especially George, love this tune. You can find it at the end of this post.

Eight men went out to assist the North Carr Lightship, which had "fought the sea 'til her moorings gave", and was adrift. The Mona was apparently the only boat even able to launch into the weather; the men knew what they were going into.

"Eight men died when the boat capsized", but the North Carr Lightship had been able to drop anchor and was saved the next day with all hands safe and sound. One of the first men to find the Mona washed up on the beach, with several crew members trapped and drowned in the cabin, had been rescued by the same boat years before, one of 118 rescuees. This is from the Brought Ferry website:
Coastguard Charlie Jones at Fife Ness spotted the lightship moving off station and immediately raised the alarm. Anstruther lifeboat was the nearest source of help for Captain Rosie and his crew, but even attempting to launch between the pier heads at low spring tide in a south-easterly gale would have been suicidal. So, at 2.42 a.m., Senior Coastguard David Mearns telephoned to ask for the Broughty Ferry lifeboat Mona. Dundee Harbourmaster Captain Norman Moug immediately telephoned new Coxswain Ronnie Grant and Mechanic John Greive and, many years later, Maureen Greive could still recall how upset her mother was as her husband John and son, John jun., rushed around the house pulling warm clothing. Lexie Anderson recalled John Greive jun. knocking on her window at 3.00 a.m., shouting, “Tell Dave the boat’s going out.”
Head Launcher Charlie Knight sent the Mona roaring down the slipway at 3.13 a.m. and she set off downriver into the teeth of the gale. At 4.06 a.m. the lifeboat was abeam of the Abertay lightship and, watched by David Mearns from Carnoustie Coastguard Station, she plunged on, constantly disappearing behind huge, breaking seas thundering over the Tay Bar. Charlie Jones called the lifeboat a few minutes later to say, “North Carr has just fired a rocket. Did you see it?” From the wildly lurching Mona John Grieve could only gasp out a brief, staccato reply, ‘No…our position…we have just past the Middle Buoys on the Bar…and we are just hanging on.’ Jones then signalled that the lightship was riding to a spare bower anchor two miles north west of Fife Ness. Jones made contact with the Mona again at 4.48 a.m., saying, “The North Carr has just fired another red rocket. Did you see it?” John Grieve replied from the Mona, “Yes, we saw that one. We have just cleared the Bar.”
[The next day] William Philip, the barman at the Carnoustie Station Hotel, was out walking his dog at Balmossie Den when he found the Mona labouring heavily in the surf, her rudder being thrust to and fro as if by unseen hand and the only sign of life an eerily still burning port hand navigation light. Philip called out, “Anyone there?” but got no reply. Then he came across the oilskin-clad body of a young man at the water’s edge and pulled it up onto the beach with help of Auxiliary Coastguard John Hamilton. The helicopter arrived a few minutes later and, as pilot Flight Sergeant Clark fought to keep the aircraft stable against the gale, Master Signaller Ken Jacobs was winched down to the lifeboat. Unable to get aboard on his wildly swinging winch wire, Jacobs was nevertheless able to see five bodies lying in cockpit and another body on the shoreline a short distance away.
Thirty minutes later, once the tide had ebbed, David Mearns ran out behind a receding wave, grabbed the lifeline and clambered aboard the Mona. This was a particularly poignant moment for Mearns as, not only did he know all of the Mona’s crew very well, he had been rescued by the lifeboat more than twenty years before when the Abertay Lightship got into difficulties in a very similar storm. Opening the cabin hatch, he shouted down, “Is there anyone there?” but got no reply.
This is a link to a BBC story on the 50th anniversary of the event.