Proud nephew visits Cromer where teen uncle became RNLI hero nearly 100 years ago

Nearly a century ago 19-year-old soldier Stewart Holmes defied raging winds and waves to help haul six sailors to the safety of Cromer beach from their capsized boat.

The extraordinary events of that day, which saw 33 lives saved from two stricken ships, are among the most famous in the national RNLI's awe-inspiring history.

And it was a proud moment for Doug Holmes at the weekend when he looked out to sea close to the spot where his courageous young uncle had risked his life to save others.

Mr Holmes travelled 390 miles from his home in Ayrshire to visit Cromer and share his family memorabilia with the town's RNLI Henry Blogg Museum.

Among items he brought with him were what he believes is a photo of the young Stewart in his Seaforth Highlanders' uniform, and the RNLI silver medal for bravery – rarely awarded to non-lifeboat crew – which Private Holmes earned on that day, January 9 1917.


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Glaswegian Stewart, who was only 5ft 3ins tall, acted as launcher when Cromer lifeboat launched to the aid of the Swedish ship Fernebo, which had split in two after hitting a mine laid by a German submarine.

Half a dozen of the Fernebo's crew took to one of the ship's own lifeboats but it overturned.

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Pte Holmes rapidly organised a chain of men who linked arms from the beach into the freezing and turbulent sea. He was at the seaward end and plucked each of the six to safety, keeping control when the last sailor panicked and dragged them both under.

Although he needed hospital treatment after his ordeal, Pte Holmes was soon back in action with his regiment and was tragically killed 10 months later while fighting in France.

He had originally joined the Seaforths aged just 16, by lying about his age. When found out, he was discharged but rejoined, legally, two years later.

Pte Holmes' story forms part of a touring national RNLI exhibition Hope In The Great War which is at the Henry Blogg museum until February 28. It features among six remarkable RNLI rescues around the UK during the 1914-1918 war.

A few hours before the Fernebo rescue, Cromer lifeboat, with its legendary coxswain Henry Blogg in charge, had rescued the crew of the Greek steamer Pyrin, in towering seas and battling gale-force winds.

The exhausted crew then attempted a further two launches to help the Fernebo, breaking and losing oars overboard, before a third successful attempt meant they could reach the wreck and save another 11 lives.

Retired tax inspector Mr Holmes, 70, has cared for the silver medal since his own father died in 1964. But it was only a year or so ago that he discovered, through the internet, the story behind it.

'I was amazed,' he said. 'My father gave me the middle name of 'Stewart' after his brother. It makes me feel very proud.'

Do you know a hero whose deeds deserve publicity? Contact newsdesk@archant.co.uk

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