On the tragic morning of 26 February 1852 a disaster struck – which gave rise to the Birkenhead Drill “Woman and Children First”.
Under the command of Captain Robert Salmond the Birkenhead Troopship left Portsmouth in January 1852, on route to East London South Africa. On-board an estimated 643 people of which 7 were women and 13 children. Also – 30 horses. Hugging the coast as close as 4.8 km and maintaining a speed of 8.5 knots the Birkenhead struck an uncharted rock at about 2 am on this historic day. Order and discipline were maintained by Commanding Officer Lieutenant Colonel Seton. Unfortunately due to lack of maintenance and thick layers of paint on the lowering mechanisms, courageous soldiers succeeded in releasing only two cutters and a gig. With men standing fast, horses thrown overboard, women and children drifting away on the released vessels only 163 people survived this dark morning….. for those who did not die on-board death by drowning came quickly, and for some unfortunate souls they lost the battle to the jaws of Great White Sharks.
Rudyard Kipling made heroes of the brave soldiers with:
‘To stand and be still
to the Birken’ead Drill
is a damn tough bullet to chew’.
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