Furness sea ablaze with fuel oil from tanker
THOSE who went to sea to keep Britain supplied with food and other essential supplies during the First World War faced the same risk of U-boat attack or shipwreck in rough weather as the men of the Royal Navy.
There was disaster in the sea off Walney on the night of September 7 to 8 in 1914.
The steam-powered ship Vedra was fully loaded with a cargo of highly volatile benzine fuel oil from Port Arthur, in Tasmania, Australia.
It was heading for a Barrow refinery when bad weather forced the ship into low water where it became fast and the tank seams were split by the pounding waves.
Benzine spread over the sea and from the resulting explosion and fire just two of the crew of 27 were rescued – one of those late dying.
By 1966 there were just to men left alive from the Barrow crew of the sailing lifeboat Thomas Fielden which has gone to the aid of the stricken fuel tanker Vedra – Edmondson "Ebb" and Guy Charnley.
Guy, of Trinity Terrace, Roa Island, told the Barrow News on April 8: “I was 17 years of age and this was my first experience as a crew member on service.
“At the time I was serving an apprenticeship in the local pilot schooner Argus.”
The lifeboat was called out around 10pm and was towed out towards the wreck – about three miles south of Hilpsford, Walney, by the paddle tug Walney.
Gut said: “The tug Furness was trying to tow Vedra off shoals but the position was hopeless.
“The weather worsened fairly quickly.”
The crew of the Vedra was urged to abandon the ship but they stayed onboard.
He said: “We could see the ship was badly damaged and the sea for some distance to leeward was covered with benzene.
“At about 2am we had just sailed clear of the ship’s lee when she burst into flames from stem to stern and the sea, especially to the leeward, was on fire.
“The lifeboat made several attempts to pick up survivors by sailing along the ship’s weather side.
“The tug Furness, commanded by Captain Hill, with great skill manoeuvred his ship to pick up two engineers off the poop, a third man, the chief engineer I think, was lost in the attempt.
The weather got worse and the tug headed for port but the lifeboat stayed until daylight to make sure there were no other survivors.
On the lifeboat that night was Herbert Raby, J. Crane, H. Charnley, R. Charnley, W. K. Charnley, E. R. Charnley, Ebb Charnley, W. A. Charnley, Guy Charnley, Allen Raby, W. Kirkham, W. Edmondson, T.Edmondson and J. Newby.
Ebb Charnley noted: “Men were screaming and running around with their clothes on fire.
“We could do nothing for them. It was terrible.
“One poor devil was standing on the flame-covered deck.
“We threw him a rope but he was so badly burnt that he could not take hold and he perished in the flames.
“By this time the sea was covered with blazing benzine and the heat was so intense that the plates were read hot and buckling, while rivets were thrown out from the joints like bullets."