Almost 50 years ago, a boat full of men, women and children left Mylor for a day trip to Fowey little realising that none of them would survive the voyage.
Described as one of the worst civil maritime tragedies in modern times, the sinking of the Darlwyne is still shrouded in mystery as the wreck was never found and the bodies of only 12 of the 31 people on board were ever recovered.
After five years’ research, St Just author Martin Banks has just had his book, The Mysterious Loss of The Darlwyne: A Cornish Holiday Tragedy, published and is preparing to take part in events being planned in Mylor to mark the anniversary of the boat’s sinking.
It was the day after England had won the World Cup in 1966 that the Darlwyne set sail from Mylor with two crew and 29 passengers made up tourists, all staying at the Greatwood Hotel in Mylor, and the hotel cleaner’s two children, Amanda, 17, and Joel Hicks, nine.
They arrived in Fowey without problem, but the skipper, Brian Bown, ignored pleas from locals not to return to sea that day because of an impending storm and as a result, the Darlwyne went down with the loss of all on board – 13 men, ten women and eight children.
Despite a search by air and sea, no sign of the boat was ever found and many of those on board, including a woman who was seven months pregnant, were never found. It later transpired that neither the Darlwyne nor its crew had been licensed to operate as a sea-going pleasure boat and that the boat was unseaworthy with limited life-saving equipment and no radio.
Falmouth Lifeboat crews brought bodies back to Falmouth and later held a memorial service which saw hundreds of people take to the streets and all the shops in town close for the day.
The Royal Yacht Britannia had also been in Falmouth at the time for the Queen Mother’s birthday, but removed all its celebration bunting and flew flags at half mast, in a mark of respect.
Mr Banks said: “It was one of the most awful civil tragedies in modern times. It is referred to in various books about Cornwall, but very little has been written about it. I have been in touch with local people who remember it and also with some of the relatives of those who were lost.
“What I have tried to do in the book is not only tell the story, but make it relevant to today. I want visitors to the area to be able to read it and go back to the places where the events actually occurred and see them as they are now.
“At the time the search and rescue operation was severely castigated and questions were raised in Parliament about the efficiency of the search.
The quality of the search and rescue was questioned so much that, for the only time in maritime history, the relatives of victims hired a private aircraft to search because they were not satisfied with the way it had been going on.
“Unlike Penlee, on the Darlwyne there are no heroes, they are all victims. I do not blame anyone – it is up to the reader to make their own decisions.”
Mr Banks will be taking part in Mylor History Group’s commemorations at the Tremayne Hall on July 26 when he will read excerpts from his book and show a newsreel filmed in Falmouth during the aftermath of the tragedy.
The book is published by Tamar Books and copies can be bought at the Maritime Museum in Falmouth and the Falmouth Bookseller.