Hull Dock Rescue

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Royal Humane Society Award to Fireman

"It was resolved unanimously that James Bielby is justly entitled to the honorary testimonial of the Society, inscribed on vellum, which is hereby awarded to him, for having on November 29, 1940, gone to the rescue of a man who was in imminent danger of drowning in the River Hull, at Hull, and whose life he gallantly saved."

This is the text of the inscription on the vellum handed to James Bielby, a ship's fireman, of Hopewell-road, Bilton Grange, Hull, by the Lord Mayor (Councillor S. H. Smith) at a brief ceremony in Hull Guildhall yesterday, and here are the details of Bielby's action which gained him the Royal Humane Society's award:

Late one night last November Bielby heard shouts when he was near the old North Bridge.
Running to the riverside, he saw John Coffey, aged 50, of Liverpool, struggling in the water.  Bielby clambered down ropes on to a lighter, dived into the river and grasped the drowning man.  Then he grabbed the rudder-bar of a lighter till help arrived.  Twice in this time Coffey lost his hold and Bielby had to go to his aid again.
By the light of a policeman's torch a rope was lowered, but Coffey was unable to maintain his grasp, and once again Bielby had to dive and bring him to the surface.


By means of a boathook Coffey was finally brought up the side of a lighter but when Bielby's turn came to be hauled up he was so exhausted by his rescue efforts that he slid down the handle and the iron hook caused arm injuries before he was hauled ashore.

Coffey was unconscious and artificial respiration had to be used before he was taken to hospital along with his rescuer.  Both were detained for some time.

At the presentation yesterday Supt. Jaram commended Bielby for his rescue in difficult circumstances and in waters that were notoriously treacherous.  Bielby showed conspicuous bravery, he said.

The Lord Mayor congratulated Bielby-a ship's fireman- of the fine piece of work he did in most difficult circumstances.  "While the river Hull might be very attractive on a warm June night, it is certainly not so attractive late at night in November.  It was a very creditable performance," he said.


Bielby, the essence of modesty, made no formal reply, but chatted to theLord mayor and revealed that Coffey is a survivor of the Titanic and that both men are now shipmates, having served on the same ship since the time of the rescue.

Bielby also said he had been congratulated by the vicar of St. Mark's Church, and as a result Bielby has promised his vellum to the church so that there will be someone to "take care of it."

[*Coffey deserted from the Titanic at Queenstown]


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Related Biographies:

John Coffey

Relates to Place:

Hull, Yorkshire, England


Encyclopedia Titanica (2013) Hull Dock Rescue (Daily Mail, Wednesday 16th July 1941, ref: #19232, published 16 January 2013, generated 29th July 2021 07:01:42 PM); URL :