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The Woollard Family

Poem by George Woollard

The Wreck of the s.s. “Berlin”


The “ Berlin’s ” story I will tell—
How she left Parkeston Quay,
From Harwich straight to Holland’s Hook,
Across the rough North Sea.

How she was wreck’d on Holland’s pier ;
The saved were hut a few
Of nigh two hundred souls on board,
The passengers and crew.

She had the mails, so she must face
The rising storm and gale,
But Captain Precious did not flinch,
Or at the storm turn tail.

A British Captain knows no fear
When duty calls away ;
He takes his place upon the bridge
And stops there - come what may.

So thus it was the “ Berlin ” left
Her berth at Parkeston Quay,
Though dark and stormy was the night,
And treacherous the sea.

Soon Harwich lights were left behind,
The battle had begun
Against a North Sea hurricane –
Her last and fatal run.

Now high, now low, and tempest-tossed
By waves that made her heel,
She quiver’d oft from bow to stern,
From upper deck to keel.

Her engines, with pulsating throbs,
Like giants worked away ;
Her mechanism strong and true
Propelled her through the spray.

On through the night she toiled along,
This was the “Berlin’s” test;
Her reputation was at stake —
One of the very best.

The captain bravely kept his post,
A gallant seaman, he
Was worthy of his company,
His ship, and of the sea.

Though dark and stormy was the night,
He had no thought of fear ;
He trusted he should battle through,
And safe to Holland steer.

For had he not sailed many a time,
And weather’d many a gale ?
The “ Berlin ” always had got through,
She’d ne’er been known to fail.

But through the watches of the night
The winds more fiercely blew ;
The captain’s faith was in his ship
And in his gallant crew.

He truly trusted all his men,
He was with all in touch,
A combination of the brave –
The English and the Dutch.

Descendants each of worthy sires,
Brave toilers of the sea :
The Dutch and English, sea-born sons
Of countries hold and free.

Right o’er the ship dashed mighty waves,
They raked her fore and aft,
But still she battled bravely on,
A strong and stately craft.

She now has nearly got across
That dark and troubled sea.
Ah ! gallant hearts, you little know
How soon your end will be !

They see the lights on Holland’s pier
Right through the distant gloom ;
Alas, the bravest of the brave !
’Tis there you meet your doom.

Oh, cruel fate ! can this be true ?
So close to Holland’s shore,
Almost inside the harbour bar,
And yet to be no more ?

No fault of yours, my gallant men,
Yours was to do or die ;
You brought your ship across the sea,
The harbour it was nigh.

All had gone well, tho’ tempest-tossed,
Until abreast the pier,
When tow’ring waves their strength put forth,
And brought destruction near.

The elements were much too strong,
They had you in their grip,
They gulfed you in a watery grave,
You and your gallant ship.

With mighty roar of dashing waves
The ship was lifted high,
Then, plunging down in deep abyss,
To clear the pier did try.

On came another giant wave
Which lifted her again ;
It cast her on that mass of stone
Which broke the ship in twaiin.

fearful loss of drowning souls !
So near, and yet so far,
Almost inside, and yet to fail
To cross the harbour bar.

A shook indeed for Holland’s folk
In early morning light,
They saw the wreck lie stranded there,
Heartrending was the sight.

See I here is one saved from the storm,
They found him on a plank ;
The lifeboat men they picked him up
And saved him ere he sank.

“ But is this all ? ” the people cry,
“ We must and will save more ? ”
They saw some huddled on the ship
And cheered them from the shore.

They launched their lifeboats for the wreck,
But waves were mountains high,
Again they tried, again they failed,
And yet again they try.

A Royal helper now appeared,
By motor to the scene
Prince Henry came, straight from the Hague,
Direct from Holland’s Queen.

There, hand in hand with fisher folk,
He scorned all princely pride,
And helped to throw a saving line
With peasants, side by side.

There on the pilot boat he stood;
It gave his people hope,
To see the consort of their Queen,
His hand upon the rope.

Ring forth the cheers, for down the line
The saved they are eleven;
Send forth the news in very truth,
A foretaste this of Heaven.

But more are still aboard the wreck,
Alive are women three,
Who, sick and weak, lie huddled there,
Nigh swallowed by the sea.

Now, is there one will risk his life ?
Brave Captain Sperling dares:
His deed will live throughout all time,
’Tis bless'd by women’s prayers.

There from a boat he plunges in
The seething-crested wave;
See ! more than once he’s beaten back —
The bravest of the brave.

He now is struggling through the surf,
This puts him to the test;
He crawls along the masonry—
See ! Now he stops to rest.

Sometimes quite hidden by the spray
That dashes o’er the pier,
But bravely on he goes, until
At last he is quite near.

He clutched a rope and climbed aboard,
To view an awful sight;
Close to the dead were huddled there
Three women, wan and white.

The living close beside the dead,
Nigh frozen by the cold ;
He tried to soothe them best he could,
This hero, brave and bold.

Then, one by one, he put them in
A cradle that he made,
Just improvised with strands of rope
He there himself unfrayed.

His helpers hauled the cradle down,
They worked with all their might,
They lashed them to the beacon’s side,
Such was their helpless plight.

They rowed back to their trusty tug
And brought them safely in,
To willing hands and aching hearts,
Far from the breakers’ din.

Bravo! brave Captain Sperling, you
Have done a noble deed,
You and your trusty shipmates three
Were men in time of need.

’Tis written on the scroll of fame,
It is such deeds that touch,
They bring two nations more akin –
The British and the Dutch.

Another deed – though last, not least –
Is that of Steward Moor,
The guardian of a little child ;
They found them near the shore.

Devoted to the very last,
He pressed him to his heart;
He tried to save the laddie Hirsch,
In death he would not part.

There, in his arms, though both were dead,
Clasped in a loving grip :
An Englishman in very truth,
And worthy of his ship.

Such deeds as these will ever live
In every age and clime.
The “Berlin’s” name and men will be
Revered throughout all time.

King Edward sent to Holland’s Prince
And made him G.C.B.,
He also honoured all the brave
For deeds across the sea.

The Queen of Holland medals sent
Each rescuer bold and true ;
Of gold, unto the captains three,
Of silver, for their crew.

When storms at sea or dangers come,
Such deeds our hearts to touch,
Then may we have brave heroes as
The English and the Dutch.


Report - 1907 The Sinking of the s.s.Berlin

At 0500 on Thursday, 21 February 1907 the Hook Lighthouse-Keeper recorded that Berlin was navigating the channel, when she suddenly veered off course northwards after being struck on her port quarter by a huge wave. Captain Precious and Pilot Bronders managed to return the ship to her original course, but the Berlin was struck by another wave and was swung northwards, causing her to become impaled on the tip of the granite breakwater at the entrance to the New Waterway.

The waves were sweeping over the vessel and both Captain Precious and Pilot Bronders were soon swept overboard. The Dutch steam life-boat President van Heel attempted to offer aid, but the rough seas prevented her from being able to approach the stricken vessel, and the Berlin broke in two amidships at 0600.

The majority of those on board had fled to the bow which sank when the ship broke in half.

The lifeboat could not close with the survivors on the stern of the vessel due to the weather. Only one man, a Captain Parkinson who was travelling as a passenger, was able to swim to the safety of the lifeboat.

Prince Henry made a visit the following day and went out on the pilot boat Helvoetsluis, along with the Dutch steam life-boat President van Heel, to recover the deceased from the sea and rescue the fifteen people remaining on the stern. The rescue of the people required a great deal of effort. An important role in this rescue was played by lifeboat Captain Martijn Sperling who used a small boat to reach the North Pier and ascend its iron beacon, from where he was able to throw ropes to the deck of the wreck to rescue 11 of the survivors. Captain Sperling then took a yawl from the salvage vessel Van der Tak alongside the wreck to rescue the remaining three female survivors.

From Wikipedia