Lough Ree Accident 1917
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Westmeath Independent Saturday 9th June 1917 pg 5

Pitiable Tragedy

Gallant Young Officers Have Terrible Experience On Treacherous Lough Ree

Squall Capsizes Boat, Two Officers Drowned, Third Escapes after Trying Ordeal

Search for the Bodies

Two young Officers attached to the 5th A Reserve Brigade, RFA Athlone, met their deaths on Saturday evening under tragic circumstances. They were sailing in Lough Ree, when a sudden Squall struck the boat and capsized it. The names of the drowned Officers are; Second Lieutenant W.E. Livsey, RFA a native of Binden, Longfield, Urminston near Manchester; and Second Lieutenant A.G. Symonds RFA, of the Hall, Congresbury, Somerset, while their room companion Second Lieutenant J. E. Pettiway, RFA of Grosvenor House, Glastonbury Avenue, Belfast was rescued after an experience which few more robust men could have lived to survive, he having been washed ashore after being for nearly three hours clinging to the upturned boat, which was tossed about by a heavy sea churned up by the heavy gale which swamped their craft.

About 3 oclock in the afternoon the three officers having failed to obtain a motor boat, left the slip in an eighteen foot centre board sailing boat for a sail on the river, their intention being to run up and down in the sheltered places for a few hours. It would appear they had no intention of entering the lake but after some time seeing the weather had become favourable, and thinking there was no danger in venturing further on the suggestion of Lieutenant Symonds it was decided to proceed up the lake so that they might procure some tea at a farmers house. The Officers apparently unaware of the treacherous nature of the lake on such a day was Saturday, with stormy winds blowing from many directions. When they came to the place where the disaster occurred midway between Carberry and Beam Island and about two miles from the nearest point of land there was not a sail in sight at the time when the squall struck their craft precipitating them into the water.

The sole survivor was Lieut Pettiway, states that a slight wind was blowing and no danger was anticipated when, without the slightest warning a gale sprang up, and before the sail could be lowered the boat was swung round and upturned, the three occupants being thrown into the water. Even then it was thought they would get safely onto land by either swimming or clinging onto the upturned craft, for all were good swimmers. Lieutenant Symonds was the possessor of several medals and cups for proficiency in that art. The seas however became very disturbed, the waves washed over the boat without intermission, while the water was bitterly cold. Lieutenant Symonds essayed to swim to the nearest point for assistance but after going approximately 50 yards he had to return , being unable to make much headway so violent was the gale. All three clung on for some time, and strange to say the strongest swimmer Lieutenant Symonds was the first to drop off and sink from the cold and exhaustion despite the endeavours of his companions to help him keep afloat. Lieutenant Livsey held on for some time further and he also dropped off and sank about half an hour after the boat overturning. Some time before he went he saw he had no chance and pluckily told his comrade to keep clinging on bidding him goodbye as he slipped away.

The survivor despite his weakness and the cold managed to hang on partly floating and partly swimming, until he was washed ashore at Hare Island, after being practically three hours in the water. Mr Wm Duffy was in the vicinity when the boat was seen coming ashore, and the survivor was promptly brought to land where kindly folk where waiting to render all the assistance in their power. Leaving Lieut Pettiway safely in the hands of friends, Mr Duffy seeing that their was there no sign of the other occupants of the boat proceeded to the RFA barracks where he reported the regrettable incident to the officer in command. Major Blake immediately proceeded in a motor car to the place where Lieut Pettiway was lying and when he had sufficiently recovered he told the sad story, being afterwards removed to his quarters, where he was attended to by Dr Dobbs and Capt Crawford RAMC. Marvellous to relate to the young officer was not much the worse for his terrible experience. On Sunday when seen by our representative he was able to be about his quarters and discuss the tragic occurrence with those who called to see him.

The deceased officers had only been only about ten days attached to the Brigade, but in that short time they had shown themselves devoted to their calling and were held in much esteem by their fellow officers and the men in their respective Batteries. Lieut Pettiway had been five weeks attached to the brigade and was also highly esteemed. To add to the sadness of the occurrence Lieut Livsey leaves a young widower to mourn his loss, he having been married but a short time prior to his coming to Ireland.

On Sunday, the Trench coats, Caps, Gloves and Sticks of the deceased officers were washed up on Hare Island, but though a keen look out was kept, no sign of the bodies were to be seen. It is estimated that the water where the disaster occurred is between forty and fifty feet deep, and unless the bodies are recovered by the drags they would have to wait until they float to be got. No attempt could be made on Saturday to drag the spot and on Sunday the weather was equally squally and with occasional rain storms rendering all attempts at recovery futile.

The spot at which the boat went down is perhaps one of the most dangerous on the whole lake, which at this point is nearly eight miles broad, with an average depth of 50 feet. Had it been known when leaving Athlone that the men meant to go on the lake they would have been warned of their danger, for not even the most expert boatman on the Shannon reach from Athlone to Lanesborough would trust himself in that particular part of the lake on anyway such as Saturday. Had the party kept to the Connaught Side there might have been some chance of their returning safely to Athlone, but even with a skilled boatman in charge in the weather prevailing on Saturday Evening, the odds on their safe return from the point at which the accident occurred would have been very small. Lieutenant Pettiway being a Belfast man had a

Good knowledge of deep sea sailing as had the others, but as Yachtermen know, the conditions prevailing on Lough Ree on Saturday were far different from those on the open sea.

Our representative had an interview with Lieutenant Pettiway at his quarters on Sunday. The young Officer looked very well after his nerve racking experience, though deeply grieved at the loss of his two comrades who since their coming to Athlone, had shared his quarters. In reply to questions put to him, Lieut Pettiway said he and his companions left before 3 oclock for the purpose of taking a trip up the river in a motor home. Having failed to get a motor they hired an eighteen foot centre board sailing boat and left the Strand some time after 3 oclock.

"Did you think it was dangerous to go sailing on the lake on such an evening?" asked our representative,

"It was quite calm when leaving said Lieut Pettiway and beside we did not intend to go on the lake. We meant to keep on the river for some time. It was only when we came near the lake that we noticed the water was quite smooth and the weather calm. Lieut Symonds said he knew a place further up the lake were we could get tea, so we proceeded thinking there was no danger.

"How did the accident occur?" asked our representative.

"Well, I do not know", was the reply, "I had charge of the sail and one of the others had the tiller. All of a sudden a squall struck the boat which was turned round and immediately we were in the water. Just then the sea rose and a violent gale blew. At first we did not mind think we could reach the land which was at a point about two miles away. I did not know the place where the accident occurred , but I believe it was some where between Carberry and Beam Island . Lieut Symonds was a good swimmer as I heard him say he had medals and cups won as prizes.

We clung on to the boat thinking we could get ashore or that we would be seen. Symonds tried to reach the shore, but when about 50 yards away he had to return and cling on to the boat as the waves were to high to allow him to make head way. Lieut Livsey kept clinging to the boat but it was a very difficult job, the boat being washed by the heavy waves and tossed about with the gale that raged, while the water was bitterly cold. After about 20 minutes from the time the Boat went over and some time after essaying to swim ashore for assistance Lieut Symonds slipped of the boat and sank before our eyes. We could no longer hold on to him any longer. Lieutenant Livsey gradually became benumbed and exhausted and in about 10 minutes dropped off and sank.

"Was there no boat in sight during the whole time?" asked our representative.

"No", said Lieutenant Pettiway, "We did not see a boat on the lake and the last one I saw was a number of Soldiers leaving Hare Island where they had been evidently having a regatta from Athlone. They were in row boats and we beat them long before we got overturned.

Continuing Lieut Pettiway stated he was between 2 and 3 hours in the water floating and partly swimming until helped out by Mr William Duffy who saw him approaching the shore. All the time the boat being pitched about as if it were a cork and on many occasions he was torn away by the force of the waves, but always recovered again. He thought it was this exertion that kept his blood in circulation and saved him from meeting his comrades fate.

Lieut Pettiway paid tribute to the hospitality he received from the Islanders and hoped to go with a search party the following day to point out as near as possible where the accident occurred and to assist the dragging operations, which will be carried out under the superintendence of Major Blake and others for the recovery of the bodies of the deceased gentleman.

Searching for the bodies.

During the week dragging operations were carried out under the supervision of Major Blake. RFA. And a number of other officers, but up to the time of going to press the bodies have not been recovered. On Monday the Trench coats, Caps, Sticks, and gloves were washed ashore. On Tuesday during the dragging operations it was thought that the grappling irons got caught in one of the bodies but some time later broke away. Lieut Pettiway was able to proceed on Monday to point out the spot where the boat capsized.

A reward has been offered for the recovery of the bodies.

A large number of expert fishermen are engaged from day to day at the dragging operations on the lake.

 

 

 

 

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