Naval historian Steve Dunn is hoping his latest book Formidable; a true story of disaster and courage, will help to raise vital finds for Brixham Heritage Museum.
He will be guest speaker at a special event at the museum on March 14th, when he will give real insight into the sinking of HMS Formidable, the first British battleship to be lost to submarine action. Key to the story is Brixham trawlerman William Pillar and his crew who put their own lives at risk to save 71 sailors.
“It’s an amazing story that’s often overlooked because there were so many acts of heroism in the First World War,” said Dunn. “But I think Pillar’s bravery was remarkable and hope my book and talks will go some way towards making sure that he’s never forgotten.”
Although the Formidable sailors had managed to get clear of the sinking battleship, they knew their small cutter couldn’t survive the horrendous weather and that they were facing almost certain death.
But having spotted the vessel, experienced seaman and lifeboatman Pillar and his three-strong crew decided to mount a rescue, navigating their fishing boat, Provident, through stormy ice-cold waters and gale force winds. For hours they struggled against the elements, but eventually managed to get all the men onto the trawler, only to face another six-hour battle against the elements before being able to reach the outer harbour of Brixham.
At the time Pillar and his crew – two men and a boy – were awarded the Albert Medal for their gallantry as well as rewards from the Admiralty. Individuals sent them letters and gifts in admiration and gratitude while the national press reported the incident exhaustively. Today Pillar is still remembered in Brixham by street names – Pillar Avenue, Pillar Close and Pillar Crescent.
“It was an emotional story to write but I hope I have done justice to those involved in the tragedy and I’m really looking forward to being in Brixham to get direct feedback from the audience.”
All money raised by the talk, which starts at 2.30pm, will be donated to the Brixham Heritage Museum.Follow