Mistaken Identities

Eighty-seven years ago John William WILLIS was crushed by a wheel of the Filey Lifeboat carriage as Hollon the Third was being hauled down the Coble Landing. At the Coroner’s inquest into his death the Lifeboat’s Honorary Secretary, Charles BURGESS, admitted that the launch had been chaotic because there was nobody effectively in charge. Frank COLLING testified that his father, who had formerly acted as chief launcher, had not informed the Institution that he had been losing his sight over the preceding twelve months or so and was not in a position to give orders. The consequence seems to have been that a shout to let go of the hauling ropes was given and all the “lanshers” heard and responded except John William. He held on, the wheels turned and he was knocked down and killed.

The tragic accident was reported in newspapers around the country and one scribe reported in the Hull Daily Mail that it was the unfortunate John William who was blind. An apology followed but averred that “These remarks should be been (sic) applied to Mr. Collins.”

The Lancashire Evening Post report of 1st September was brief and to the point.

John William Willis of Queen Street, Filey, one of the lifeboat crew, and skipper of the herring drifter Protect Me II, was killed by being knocked down and run over by the carriage when the lifeboat was being launched to the assistance of the Yarmouth steam drifter Girl Ena.

Girl Winifred
Steam Drifter ‘Girl Winifred YH 997’by Kenneth Luck (1874–1936) and Claude Mowle (1871–1950), © and photo credit Great Yarmouth Museums

John William was 54 years old, husband to Tilly, nee CLARK, and father of two daughters.  There were two other Filey men bearing his name, born within ten years of each other, but not related by blood – and Filey Genealogy & Connections, alas, gives us the wrong victim of the accident. The World Tree doesn’t have “our” John William or Matilda. I’ll deal with this omission as soon as I can.

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I went to the churchyard this afternoon to photograph the headstone and walked on to the cliff top overlooking the scene of the accident.

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