A BRAVERY medal won by a fearless lifeboatman who helped save 47 men when their ship was wrecked in a gale off the Hartlepool coast is set to help fetch up to £1,800 at an auction today.
The silver Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI) medal was presented to Herbert William Jefferson, motor mechanic for the Hartlepool lifeboat The Princess Royal, after he and his colleagues rescued 47 of the crew of the stricken steamship Hawkwood in January 1942.
Almost 70 years later Mr Jefferson’s medal and his British War medal are expected to sell for between £1,400 and £1,800 at Spink, in Bloomsbury, London.
The citation for Mr Jefferson’s RNLI medal says: “On January 26, 1942, with an easterly gale blowing and fierce snow squalls, the London SS (steam ship) Hawkwood went ashore in a rough sea, half a mile north of the Tees North Gare Jetty at Hartlepool.
“The Watson class motor launch, The Princess Royal, launched at 7.35am and on arrival, found the wreck in two parts lying in water too shallow for approach.
“Therefore Coxswain (Lieutenant William Henry) Bennison returned to station. He went out again in the afternoon and, with heavy seas breaking into the lifeboat, took off five men from the fore part of the wreck and landed them. A third trip to rescue men on the aft part was unsuccessful.
“The remaining survivors were later saved by rocket apparatus.”
Hartlepool lifeboat coxswain, Lieutenant William Henry Bennison, received the RNLI gold medal – the lifeboatmen’s Victoria Cross – for masterminding the rescue, while motor mechanic Herbert Jefferson received the RNLI silver medal and six other Hartlepool lifeboatmen each received the RNLI bronze medal.
For risking their lives, each man received a gratuity of £4 eight shillings and sixpence (£4.43p in modern money).
RNLI official Brian Wead said: “An RNLI gold medal will only be awarded for a rescue in which exceptional courage, skill and initiative is shown. It is known as the lifeboatmen’s VC.
“A silver medal will be awarded in circumstances that fall just short of the criteria for a gold medal and a bronze can be awarded for gallantry or merit during a rescue.”
Since the RNLI was founded in 1824 and up until December 31 last year, only 119 gold medals have been awarded, while 1,558 silver medals and 799 bronze medals have been presented.
After the SS Hawkwood rescue Mr Jefferson was modest about his role in the drama.
He said: “All I want to do is to pay my tribute to the coxswain. But for his coolness and resource we would not have accomplished what we did.”
Mr Jefferson died on January 19, 1943, just a week before the first anniversary of the daring rescue on January 26, 1942, which made him a hero.
At Spink on April 21 this year, an RNLI silver medal awarded in 1874 to Seaham lifeboat coxswain John Marshall junior sold – along with his silver pocket watch – for £2,100, more than double the amount it had been expected to fetch.