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THE TRAGEDY OF 17 JULY 1893, BRAVERY AND A LIFE THEREAFTER

I am very grateful to Tony Whittaker who contacted me late in 2018 to tell me the names of the the boys involved in the incident described below and to share with me additional material his research had uncovered, including photographs and maps. I am also grateful to Trevor Hildrey, Archivist for Merchant Taylors' Schools, for information about the school's commemorative plaque for the boys who lost their lives.

Where unattributed, quoted comments are from local newspaper reports of the incident and of the subsequent inquest.

EYTON OWEN BECOMES A TEACHER AT BLUNDELLSANDS

Location of Blundellsands Blundellsands House 1907 Eyton Pritchard Owen graduated BA from Durham in December 1892 but the past University Journals show that he continued to participate in representative rowing and football until mid-March the following year. Very soon after that he left Durham to work as an assistant master at Waterloo High School, near Liverpool. In 1888 the school had moved to Blundellsands from nearby Waterloo and it would subsequently be renamed Blundellsands House School, from the name of the building it occupied adjacent to the shore in Burbo Bank Road South (click on photos for enlargements). Note that the building no longer exists and the road is now 150 metres further from the shore than it was in those days. Blundellsands stands near the mouth of the Mersey, beside an area of water known for its sandbanks.

Beach cricket, Blundellsands On Monday 17 July 1893 school holidays had probably begun but Eyton had not yet returned to his family in Wales. He might have been in the schoolhouse or perhaps on the shore supervising a game of cricket (click on photo, right, for an enlargement); the 'mile marker' in the photo, stood opposite the end of Warren House Road (see map below).

THREE BOYS ARE STRANDED ON A SANDBANK

As the tide raced in that day, two brothers with their friend, the son of the local vicar, found themselves stranded on a sandbank just off the shore. The seas were rough and a strong wind was blowing as the sandbank on which the boys stood began to disappear rapidly beneath the waves. When the channel between them and the shore was about 150 yards wide, a man heard their cries for help and ran about 600 yards to the coastguard station to raise the alarm. A coastguard reported that by the time they arrived at the scene "the lads were up to their necks in water". His evidence and that of his colleagues and of other witnesses indicate that the water was too deep and the seas to rough to use an available punt to reach the boys; they launched it with difficulty but it filled with water. However, three of them did manage to reach a larger boat moored near the shore. Their frantic efforts to unshackle it were unsuccessful so they were attempting to row it as close to the boys as the mooring chain would allow - it was estimated that this would have been within 10 feet of the highest point of the bank - when the boys were swept away.

The plan below, from a slightly later map but with the known post-1893 developments removed, shows Eyton's school (Blundellsands House), the coastguard station, St. Nicholas's Church and the vicarage where the family of one of the boys lived. Blundellsands plan

Eyton Owen, later said how he had seen the events described above and had been told there were some boys drowning; in his opinion the coastguardsmen "could not have done more under the circumstances". Retrospectively, one of the coastguardsmen said, "It would have taken a very expert swimmer to save the boys" and not one of the coastguardsmen had that capability.

Eyton was a fit young man but no great swimmer; he claimed he could swim a quarter of a mile at a pinch but the Durham University Journal [4 Nov. 1893]] commented that he "was almost spent in swimming across the Wear at the sports of 1890". (The Wear is the river through Durham across which Eyton had attempted to swim, when he was leading near the end of the steeplechase in the annual university championships, rather than take the longer route across a bridge, and it cost him victory.) However, on seeing the boys' plight and the failures of the rescue attempts, Eyton acted decisively and swam out into the heavy seas. He managed to reach one of the boys and "brought him to shore more dead than alive and he himself greatly exhausted" [ibid]. A coastguardsman took the unconscious child out of his arms and he was then "restored to consciousness with difficulty" by employing "Dr. Sylvester's method". Tragically, the other two boys could not be saved.

THE BOYS WHO LOST THEIR LIVES

The three boys were not pupils at the school where Eyton taught but attended Merchant Taylors' School at nearby Great Crosby. High up on the wall behind the main door in the Tower Entrance to the school is a plaque in memory of the two boys who drowned. It reads:

In affectionate remembrance of Norman John von Dadelszen Krüger, aged 14 years, and of Arthur Hayes Winslow, aged 12 years, members of this school, who were drowned while bathing from a sandbank on the Crosby shore, July 17th 1893, and in admiration of the heroic self-sacrifice of Norman Krüger who, foregoing all effort to save his own life, though attempts at rescue were being made, struggled to the last to support above the waves his comrade and his younger brother who alone was saved. This tablet is erected by their sorrowing schoolfellows.
"Greater love hath no man than this, that he lay down his life for his friend"
"They asked life of thee, and thou gavest them a long life, even for ever and ever."

Arthur was the son of Rev. Charles de Blois Winslow, vicar of the nearby St Nicholas's Anglican Church (it was then about 350 metres from the beach); Charles arrived on the shore as hopes for his son's rescue diminished. A window at the west end of his church, the so-called Kempe window, commemorates the two boys.

The jury at the inquest deliberated long - there were concerns about the paucity of suitable rescue equipment for the use of the coastguardsmen, their inadequate swimming ability and their choice of approach to the rescue - but eventually returned a verdict of 'Accidental Death'. They complimented Eyton "on his gallant rescue of the boy Kruger, and recommended the coroner to forward their presentment to the right quarter".

EYTON OWEN'S BRAVERY IS RECOGNISED

Liverpool Shipwreck and Humane Society awarded Eyton its highest accolade, its gold medal (see report and medal); only one could be awarded each year and it was only the third time the award had been made to an individual since its inception in 1839. A report in the North Wales Chronicle (29 October 1893) described the presentation made at the annual speech day at Waterloo High School: "In the present instance the committee thought that the gallantry exhibited was exceptionally creditable, and they unanimously decided to award the gold medal (applause), for saving one of three boys swept out to sea while swimming in the Mersey at Crosby on 17th July 1893." The presentation was made by Sir W.B. Forward and his address to the school concluded: "He hoped that that day would long live in their memory, and whenever they were faint-hearted they would think of this occasion, and learn to know how bravery was appreciated by their fellow-men (applause). He felt certain, too, that the incident of that day would long dwell in the boys' recollection, and be an incentive to follow in the good example of their master, Mr. Owen (loud applause)."

THE BOY WHO WAS SAVED

The boy Eyton saved was called George Edward von Worm Krüger and, like Arthur, he was aged twelve. He had been born on Christmas Day 1880 and had been christened in Bath soon afterwards; his mother was a native of Bath and some years later, after she and George's father had separated, it appears that she and her youngest son Kenneth lived with her widowed father in Bath while the two older boys, Norman and George, were boarding at Swan Hill School, Shrewsbury. At the time of the incident the family was living in Mersey View in Blundellsands, just along the road from St Nicholas's Church.

After leaving Merchant Taylors' School George studied art at Bath School of Art where he won a scholarship to the Royal College of Art. His only surviving brother Kenneth had forged a career in the Merchant Navy, gaining his master's certificate in 1905, so their mother moved with George to London, where they settled first in Kensington and later in Cheyne Walk, Chelsea. Not surprisingly, George, by then a professional artist and a teacher of design, served in the Artists' Rifles in WWI and having qualified from camouflage school as a "superior painter" then took up camouflage duties with the Royal Engineers.

In June 1918 he married Frances Audrey Gordon Gray when he was 37 and she was 36. By then he had already changed his name to George Edward Kruger Gray; it is less German sounding than his birth name and is the name on his marriage certificate. The marriage took place in Kensington which is where the couple subsequently lived.

His skill as a designer manifested itself in various guises, the principal one being as a leading designer for the Royal Mint. As well as designing the reverse side for many British coins he also designed them for countries of the British Empire (subsequently countries of the Commonwealth).

K-G on Canadian coin Many of his designs bear a very small "KG", "K-G" or "G". I wrote to various of my Owen relations about this story and one of my Canadian cousins sent me this photo (click on photo, right, for an enlargement) of a coin in her possession bearing the mark "K-G". One of the first websites I came across re George Kruger Gray (see here ). concerned the design of Canadian coins. It sets out to argue that it was high time a Canadian redesigned their coinage. The site begins: "Anyone familiar with the tiny letters KG on the reverse side of the Canadian one- and five-cent coins will know that they are the initials of George Edward Kruger-Gray, the talented British designer and engraver who lived from 1880 to 1943. In addition to creating the designs of the two highest-mintage Canadian coins, his artwork appeared on coins of Australia, Bermuda, Cyprus, Britain, Jersey, Mauritius, New Guinea, New Zealand, South Africa and Southern Rhodesia."

The initials were sometimes separated, as shown on this site, which also lists coins George designed and amongst those for non-UK countries, the greatest number were for South Africa. Apparently George's fame as a coin designer was enhanced after the mouldings of his designs for coins for the 1910 unification of South Africa were displayed in an exhibition. Eyton Owen went out to fight in the Boer War and then settled in South Africa. One wonders if he ever knew of the connection between the boy whose life he saved and the coins in his pocket.

Photographs of George and of many more of his designs can be seen here. George was also commissioned to create designs for coats of arms, badges, medals, a mace, a flag, stained glass windows, plaques (including a plaque for the Glaziers Company of which he was made a liveryman in 1936), and church screens, as well as being a distinguished sculptor and artist (mainly oils and lithographs).

In the following two years George was given the freedom of the City of London, awarded a CBE and made a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts.

Having lost one brother in the tragic drowning of 1893, George was to outlive his younger brother, Kenneth. After leaving the merchant navy Kenneth became a surveyor in Japan and died in a Japanese POW camp in Yokohama in December 1941.

I do not believe George and Frances had any children. He died on 2 May 1943 at St. Richards Hospital Chichester, not long before the 50th anniversary of the day Eyton Pritchard Owen saved his life.

Eyton Owen's daughter is about to celebrate her ninetieth birthday this year (2019). I hope she and Eyton's many other living descendants will enjoy learning a little more about his bravery and its consequences and we should not forget the contribution Norman Krüger made to keeping his younger brother alive.

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