scouts disaster


Boy Scout Disaster, Leysdown

On the 4th August 1912, a terribly tragedy occurred off Leysdown on the Isle of Sheppey.  In the early afternoon, a cutter, which was formerly in the naval service, capsized when a gust of strong wind caught it as it was heading for shore. On board were 23 Boy Scouts, belonging to the Dulwich Scouts' Mission and five adults, who had left Erith with the tide about 8 o'clock in the morning.  A strong westerly breeze had been blowing for most of the day, and when the cutter had rounded Warden Point and was heading for the shore, an extra strong gust of wind and rain, caught the boat and caused it to capsize.  Most of the occupants were thrown into the sea and some of them were washed seaward.  The cutter righted itself, but then capsized again.  Some of the boys were able to cling to the upturned boat, but a number of them were washed clear.  Most of the lads were able to swim, and the men in the party did their best to keep them afloat, but the cutter had capsized in six fathoms of water, and before help could reach them from the shore,  a number of them had perished.

The accident had been seen from the Leysdown Coastguard station, and the men under Chief Petty Officer Streeter, who was in charge, immediately launched their boat and went to the rescue, followed by a number of swimmers belonging to the Sheppey Boy Scouts.  Under Scoutmaster Picot, they left their camp with life lines over a mile long to render assistance.  When the Coastguard cutter reached the scene of the disaster, it picked up 15 Scouts and the five adults, all of whom were in the water, and virtually exhausted.  Had the boat been ten minutes later, the loss of life would have been much greater.  When the Coastguard crew had satisfied themselves that they could save no more, they set out for the shore, and the rescue party of Scouts, who had swum over a mile, were ordered back.  Two of the rescued lads were unconscious, and several others of the party were almost in a state of collapse.  The boat was beached near the Coastguard Station and medical and other aid was immediately at hand.  Scoutmaster Picot, succeeded after an hour and a half in resuscitating one of the boys named Schofield, but another lad succumbed after two and a half hours of resuscitation. The roll with the names of the  boys in the party had gone down in the boat, and Scoutmaster Marsh, was too ill for a while to give particulars of the boys names, but later it became known that nine boys had lost their lives. They were: Harry Gwynn, James Skipsey, Thompson Filmer, Noel Filmer, Frank Masters, W. Beckham, Edward Smith, Percy Huxford, Albert Dack. The Coastguard Watch Station kept watch for the missing bodies, and eventually the bodies of seven boys were recovered leaving one unaccounted for.  Percy Huxford was missing, and a couple of days later, the Coastguards under CPO Streeter and ten scouts, scoured the flats between Warden Point and Shellness for the body of Percy Huxford, but there was no sign.

 On August 13th, the body of a Boy Scout was washed ashore at Margate.  The clothing was marked P.H. Dulwich Mission, 2nd Walford, from which it was inferred that it was the remains of Percy Huxford.

Later, CPO Streeter said that the boat was properly handled and competently sailed.  The disaster was not due to bad seamanship, but to a sudden squall, which also set up a big sea.

The bodies of the Boy Scouts who lost their lives, were removed from the Leysdown Coastguard Watch Station, to the destroyer Fervent, which Mr. Churchill had sent to convey them to London for interment.  The Sheppey Troop of Boy Scouts lined up as a guard of honour from the Coastguard station to the beach.  The Scouts stood with their heads bowed on their staves, and the Scoutmasters stood at salute.  The relatives that were present, walked behind the coffins to where a boat from the Fervent arrived to help the Coastguardsmen's gig remove the bodies.

A later inquest, gave a verdict of Accidentally Drowned, and confirmed that Scoutmaster Marsh had done his utmost, and that his conduct was very praisworthy.

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