"The bravest of the brave"

compiled by Sue Humphrey (Local History Group 1)

Whilst browsing through my copy of “The King Holds Hayling” the other day, I came across a snippet of information about a former resident of Hayling, Admiral Sir James Startin, KCB, AM, JP. This prompted me to find out more about him. The passage which particularly impressed me was the following:

“One wild September night in 1908 the lifeboat was about to be launched when Coxswain C.H. Cole found that he was a man short and called for a volunteer. The Admiral, who had rushed down to the beach in pyjamas and a mackintosh, jumped in and took an oar.”

I now reproduce a full account of the incident, which I found posted on the Hayling Forum, though I do not have the original source. (It probably comes from Hayling Lifeboat Records as Admiral Startin served on the Hayling Lifeboat Committee. It is entitled “Prompt reply to signals of distress. Admiral on board.”)

“On the 13th October 1910 the “Charlie and Adrian” was launched at 10.20 at night, together with the Southsea, Bembridge, Littlehampton and Selsey lifeboats, when distress signals were reported off the Nab Lightship. The weather was rough with a northeasterly gale blowing, causing a heavy sea. Coxswain Miller was ill, so the Second coxswain Charlie Cole was in charge of the lifeboat. As the lifeboat was being pulled out of the boathouse, Admiral Sir James Startin arrived. He had not long vacated his command of the Home Fleet, and this trip out in the lifeboat this time would be under rather different circumstances. He jumped into the boat and informed Charlie Cole that he wished to be included in the crew. The Coxswain had received instructions after the last time the Admiral had been out on a service, that it was not considered advisable that he should form one of the crew and that a younger man was to be taken. Charlie Cole explained to the Admiral that he had his crew, and that the Institution never allowed supernumerary members on service. Reluctantly Admiral Startin left the boat, which was pulled down to the waters edge, and into the surf that was thundering on the shore. No one thought any more about the Admiral; but not to be outdone, he had gone down into the sea, scantily dressed as he was, and waited until the boat was being launched from her carriage, and at a psychological moment, mounted one of the wheels and jumped into the boat just as she was afloat, every crewman at the time being employed at his respective duty. The lifeboat had a good launch, and the crew being soaked to the skin, as she entered the water in the teeth of the gale which was blowing. Once the Admiral was discovered there was nothing more to be done than to accommodate him, as to turn the boat back would have entailed great delay. Charlie and his crew made for the Nab, which was reached at midnight where the crew were informed that they were repeating signals that had been fired by the Owers lightship asking for assistance.

Feeling that it would be impossible to reach the Owers Lightship before daylight, and knowing that the Selsey lifeboat had been launched, the “Charlie and Adrian” was turned round to return to the shore, but when about a mile from the boathouse the Nab was seen firing rockets again. The boat was put about, and the Nab was visited a second time. This time they were informed that a steamer was requiring assistance, being driven before the wind about ten miles south-west of the Nab. Knowing that it would be impossible to overtake the vessel, Charlie Cole again turned the lifeboat for home returning at 6:00 in the morning having found no vessel. For all this time Admiral Startin only had on his pyjamas and slippers, except for an oilskin that one of the crew had given him. The steamer turned out to be the Naval oil fuel ship “Isla”. She had lost her propeller when off the Nab and signalled for assistance. She was blown before the gale round the back of the Isle of Wight until off the Needles and was met by a tug from Portsmouth Dockyard and towed to safety.”

Admiral Startin and his wife, Alice, lived at Wyndlawn, Hayling Island. The house no longer exists, but from information gleaned from various items posted on the Hayling Forum I feel that it is almost certain that it was located on the south side of Hollow Lane close to where the entrance to Mark Anthony Court is today. It was damaged by bombing in World War 2, and was finally demolished in 1960/61. Wyndlawn, whilst Admiral and Lady Startin lived there, gradually earned the name of “The Fort”. F.G.S. Thomas states: “By the gateposts stood two awe-inspiring 13.5 inch shells, and mounted outside the kitchen was a German 4 inch submarine gun presented to him by the Admiralty in recognition of his successful submarine hunting in the Great War. Other trophies included relics of the Zulu and Benin wars, boarding pikes and a German mine!”

In this grand residence Admiral and Lady Startin raised their four children, three boys and a girl. Their eldest son was killed at Gallipoli. They bought Wyndlawn in 1907 and according to FGS Thomas, they soon became two of the most popular personalities on the Island, immediately becoming involved in all sorts of local affairs. He was made a JP and Assistant Commissioner of Sea Scouts for Hampshire. He founded the Hayling Men’s Brotherhood and was a great friend of the Vicar, the Reverend Charles Clark, and a Church Warden at St. Mary’s. She was equally active in Island affairs until her death in 1923. She was buried in the Churchyard at St. Mary’s. Despite the fact that he lived in Shropshire for much of the time after his second marriage, Admiral Startin always kept his affection for Hayling and it was at his old home, then occupied by his second son, that he died in 1948 at the grand old age of 93. He was buried alongside Alice in the family grave under a yew tree in St. Mary’s Churchyard. The Times headed his obituary notice “The Bravest of the Brave” and this is engraved at the base of the memorial cross above the family grave.

I would like to acknowledge the information in this article, which I gleaned from the Hayling Forum Website and also the information contained, in F.G.S. Thomas’s seminal work “The King Holds Hayling”, Sue.