Royal Navy men drowned in Belfast Lough, Co. Down

On 31st March 1945, a small yacht carrying men from HMS Sarawak overturned. Five of those on the boat drowned in Belfast Lough leaving only one survivor.

At around 1500hrs on 30th March 1945, a small yacht carrying 6 men from the Royal Navy's HMS Sarawak capsized in Belfast Lough. Two officers and 3 ratings lost their lives in the tragic boating accident.

The five men drowned in Belfast Lough were Telegraphist Arthur Newton Davey, Lieutenant Samuel Geoffrey Crimes, Lieutenant Tom Harrison Raven, Signalman Lyn Edgar Landon Relf, and Telegraphist John Albert White.

Witnesses saw the crew heading in the direction of Belfast at 1415hrs. A strong wind caused rough waters in the lough and a sudden squall overturned the yacht as it came opposite the County Antrim War Memorial at Greenisland, Co. Antrim.

After the small craft overturned, the men swam back to the boat and clung to the upturned keel. They waved handkerchiefs to attract attention but their plight went unnoticed for over 2 hours. Choppy waters and the stuff wind made it difficult for the men to hang on. The boat lay low in the water meaning it was also hard for passing vessels to see them. Another boat bound for Belfast passed by within 100 yards failing to notice the stricken vessel.

Rescue Attempts

At around 1700hrs, Lady Clark of Seapark, Greenisland, Co. Antrim saw the men from her drawing-room window. Her son, Peter Clark, made a phone call to the Royal Ulster Constabulary at Carrickfergus, Co. Antrim. There was no motor boat available in Carrickfergus and the weather was too bad to send out punts. At 1740hrs, a pilot ship belonging to Belfast Harbour went to the rescue. Skipper William Wilson took two Carrickfergus men, Thomas Hamilton and Thomas McKeown, to aid with the rescue. When the rescue party arrived at the upturned boat, only one man remained.

Thomas McKeown took over the tiller of the pilot ship while William Wilson and Thomas Hamilton rescued Lieutenant Marsden. It was a difficult operation due to the bad weather. Thomas Hamilton’s father, Councillor James Hamilton, readied his car to bring the injured party to Dr. F Green in Castle Street, Carrickfergus, Co. Antrim. Marsden was suffering from shock and exposure but was able to tell what had happened.

He explained how his 5 colleagues had to let go due to exhaustion. He helped pull them back to the boat until he too became overcome with exhaustion.

The last of my companions to remain on the upturned yacht was Telegraphist White. He let go on three occasions but I managed to pull him back again until he became utterly exhausted and could stand it no longer. I could not have lasted much longer myself. It seemed terrible to see several vessels pass a short distance away without observing our plight.

The following day saw the Admiralty retrieve the stricken yacht and tow it to Bangor, Co. Down. Motorboats patrolled Belfast Lough in search of the other men without success.

On 3rd May 1945, the body of Lyn Edgar Landon Relf washed ashore near Holywood, Co. Down. Those of Arthur Newton Davey and John Albert White were discovered a week earlier. At around 1830hrs on 4th May 1945, the body of Samuel Geoffrey Crimes washed ashore between Jordanstown and Whiteabbey, Co. Antrim. The body of Lieutenant Thomas Harrison Raven was recovered the same day near Grey Point, Co. Down and was brought ashore at Belfast Harbour by a tug boat and handed over to the police.

Reverend CW Redmond (Assistant Naval Chaplain) conducted the funerals of Lieutenant Thomas Harrison Raven, Lieutenant Samuel Geoffrey Crimes, and Signalman Lyn Edgar Landon Relf. The funerals of the men drowned in Belfast Lough took place with full naval honours at Belfast City Cemetery, Belfast, Co. Antrim on 8th May 1945. Signalman Relf’s father attended the funeral after service at St. Thomas’ Parish Church, Belfast, Co. Antrim.