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When I was a child, my teacher taught us the story of Grace Darling, a heroine of enormous courage. I wonder how many of us have heard her name today or know of her incredible act of heroism one dark and stormy night in 1838?  It matters not what country you call home when considering people like Grace Darling. It is a story for everyone, from every background and every country. 

For there are many heroes in history whose names have been forgotten and whose acts of bravery have been washed ashore on a beach and taken away by the waves of indifference. 

This is our salute to one person whose name and deed should never be forgotten and, in the words of Wordsworth  " "But courage, Father! let us out to sea,
A few may yet be saved." 

Grace Darling was born on 24 November 1815. She was the seventh of nine children. Her father was a lighthouse keeper and the family lived at Longstone Lighthouse, a lighthouse located on Longstone Rock in the outer group of the Farne Islands off the Northumberland Coast, England. 

It was an inhospitable place The family spent most of their time on the ground floor of the lighthouse, which consisted of a large room, heated by a wooden stove. The room was their living room, dining room, and kitchen in one, and had a spiral staircase leading to three bedrooms above and the light at the top of the tower.

On 7 September 1838 Grace saw the paddlesteamer Forfarshire shipwrecked on a nearby rocky island. The Forfarshire had foundered on the rocks and broken in half; one of the halves had sunk during the night. Grace could see survivors in the water and she alerted her father to what she saw. 


Follow the SS Forfarshire on it's fatal, final voyage from Hull to Dundee and hear of the daring rescue by Grace and William Darling.

Darling and her father, William, determined that the weather was too rough for the lifeboat to put out from Seahouses (then North Sunderland), so they took a rowing boat (a 21 ft (6.4 m), four-man Northumberland coble) across to the survivors, taking a long route that kept to the lee side of the islands, a distance of nearly a mile (about 1.5 km). Darling kept the coble steady in the water, while her father helped four men and the lone surviving woman, Sarah Dawson, into the boat. Although she survived the sinking, Mrs. Dawson had lost her two young children (James, 7, and Matilda, 5) during the night.

William and three of the rescued men then rowed the boat back to the lighthouse. Darling then remained at the lighthouse while William and three of the rescued crew members rowed back and recovered four more survivors.source

When news of the heroic actions of the lighthouse keeper and his daughter reached the mainland, fundraising efforts were launched and a sum ( in today's money ) of about 70,000 pounds was raised. Both Grace and her father were awarded the Silver Medal for Bravery by the Royal National Institution for the Preservation of Life from Shipwreck.

In 1842, Grace Darling fell ill while visiting the mainland  The Duchess of Northumberland heard of her illness and arranged for her to be moved to better accommodation close to Alnwick Castle, and looked after her in person. She also ensured that Grace had access to her own family physician. Grace's condition declined, and in the final stages of her illness, she was taken home to the place of her birth. She passed away in October 1842, aged just 26. She died of tuberculosis, historically known as consumption. 

When I think of Grace Darling, all these years later, I cannot help but think about how brave she and her father were: heading out to sea in the middle of a tempest and motivated only by the desire to save lives and help people in need. 

I also think of the other heroes that fateful day: the crew and passengers who were the unsung heroes. Their will to survive against all odds is immense. 

We are poorer in terms of courage than we have ever been before.  As our world descends into chaos and we are facing the storm front of over-regulation and imposition on our civil liberties, I hear people constantly saying " someone must DO something! " as if it is the role of others to step up to the challenge of the oncoming storm. 

Yet even when some of us do, we are shot down by bureaucracy. 

When Grace Darling peered out of the upstairs window of a lighthouse all those years ago, she saw a disaster in progress and, without thinking, she and her father did what some would say was the impossible. 

She reacted with decisive grit and determination. 

These days, we bow our heads, cower and do as we are told. Stay safe within our quiet pampered lives and close the curtains and shut out the storm raging outside. 

Yet, even though we close our minds to the turmoil around us, we all know that the storm is not only raging, but gathering in strength. 


Thanks to Malcolm for his reading from the poem by Wordsworth

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