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RNLI exhibition in Cromer details WW1 rescues

Hope In The Great War opens on February 4 at the RNLI's Henry Blogg Museum in Cromer, Norfolk. Photo: PA Images

The rescue of 144 people from a wrecked hospital ship is one of six relatively unknown missions to be featured in an upcoming exhibition about the First World War.

Whitby Royal National Lifeboat Institute (RNLI) crews made the rescue from the HMHS Rohilla, a Royal Navy Hospital Ship, in 1914.

Now the heroism of those involved will be showcased in Hope In The Great War, a four-year touring exhibition which coincides with the centenary of the First World War.

The free-to-attend exhibition, funded by Arts Council England, will acknowledge and honour the bravery of RNLI volunteers who risked their lives to save others during the conflict "by raising awareness of six relatively unknown heroic lifeboat rescues", says the charity.

On October 30, 1914, HMHS Rohilla travelling to Dunkirk to pick up the wounded, struck Whitby Rock. Although only metres from shore, high seas and storm force winds made any rescue difficult.

Whitby's RNLI lifeboat was carried by hand over a seawall to be launched from the beach. Eventually six lifeboats battled the sea to reach the ship, fill up with desperate passengers and return them to the shore.

Volunteer RNLI lifeboat crews and the community of Whitby worked for more than 50 hours and saved 144 lives.

Other rescues to be featured include Cromer RNLI lifeboat's rescue of the Pyrin and Fernebo, which saw 33 people saved on January 9, 1917 and Fraserburgh RNLI lifeboat's rescue of the steamer SS Glenravel which saw 14 people saved on August 8, 1915.

Visitors will also learn of RNLI Port Eynon lifeboat's service to the Dunvegan which took place on New Year's Day 1916, and the saving of 20 lives from the tanker Ponus on November 3 of the same year by Falmouth RNLI lifeboat crew and servicemen.

The final rescue to be featured tells the story of 23 survivors from the SS Alondra which was wrecked on the Kedge Rock off Baltimore, Ireland, on December 29, 1916, and the rescue by Baltimore volunteers together with two Royal Naval trawlers.

Hope In The Great War opens on February 4 at the RNLI's Henry Blogg Museum in Cromer, Norfolk. It will go on the other RNLI museums and lifeboat stations nationwide.

"Hope in the Great War will highlight the extraordinary achievements of ordinary people who volunteered for the RNLI throughout the war years, conveying a sense of hope as many lives were saved at sea by the charity.

"The exhibition offers an ideal way for families and young children to learn about the work of RNLI volunteers during the First World War and will feature a play area for younger children."

– RNLI spokesman

The exhibition was made possible by an Arts Council England grant of £78,200 awarded to the RNLI in order to share more details about the charity's coastal volunteers during the First World War.

The RNLI has also been working with local community groups to create artworks that interpret their own local lifesaving story.

These items, including a giant jigsaw, a podcast and an animation, will be included in the exhibition.