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Princess saves four lives using her personal belt

Year 1937

Read by Didy Graham – Governor, Royal Humane Society

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Ryle, Iris Mary, Miss. (now Princess Wittgenstein)

About 4 p.m. on 5th September, 1937, a party of four persons (consisting of a husband and wife, his brother and friend) were surf-bathing in Constantine Bay, Cornwall, and after a time became separated by the tide. The wife and her friend, being furthest out, suddenly discovered that they were in a strong current, and in spite of swimming hard towards the shore found they were unable to make progress. The husband, later realizing that his wife and friend were in difficulties, swam to their aid accompanied by his brother, and on reaching them they assisted the wife and friend respectively, both of whom now being exhausted by their efforts to get out of the current. The flood tide had commenced to make by now, thereby increasing the size of the breakers, which not only separated the two pairs of bathers, but also prevented them seeing one another except when on the crest of a wave. The people ashore had by now realized the danger, and the buoy and line (kept on the beach for that purpose) had been fetched for use. Henry Harvey got the buoy, and with others attending the line, started to swim out to their aid, but found himself being swept southward. He then attempted to stem the current, but without success.

Miss Ryle, who was sun-bathing in a relative’s garden on the cliff-top, realized the danger, ran 150 yards down to the beach and on to some rocks towards which she knew the tide set, waded out waist deep, and called to Harvey to swim in her direction, which he did. After taking the buoy from him she swam out across the current in the direction of the two men furthest out, leaving Harvey to unravel and attend to the line. This he was unable to do in time, and so swam out after her, eventually losing his hold on the line, thus leaving Miss Ryle to swim out unattended. Harvey then followed after her, was caught by the current and swept out towards the husband and wife. On her way out Miss Ryle passed one of the men, who said he was all right and told her to go on to his friend who was further seaward. This she did, and found him to be very exhausted by now. With the man holding on to the buoy Miss Ryle turned and made for the shore, swimming diagonally across the current due to its strength. Eventually she managed to reach the rocks, and whilst the line was being hauled ready for the next attempt, it was discovered that the other man, seeing a rope dragged past him, had held on to it, and was thus saved also.

Miss Ryle’s aunt then arrived with her personal belt with line attached, and the two women then set out to attempt the rescue of the husband and wife, who had by now been over one and a half hours in the water, with the waves continuously washing over them. As Miss Ryle’s line was not long enough, two men swam out and attached another length to it. On reaching the persons in danger, she discovered that Harvey had been swept close to them, and that he was very exhausted indeed. With the wife and Harvey holding on to the buoy, and the husband on to Harvey’s shoulder, she made for the shore, being assisted by persons ashore hauling in on the line. The aunt was also hauled ashore, as due to the drag on the line she had been unable to get out through the breakers.

The rescue was at least 100 yards out from the shore, and took over one hour in all to effect. The heavy ground swell and breakers added considerably to the risk, and all the persons saved state they owe their lives entirely to Miss Ryle’s courage and resources under very difficult conditions.

Miss Ryle was awarded a Silver Medal and Henry George Lewarne Harvey a Bronze Medal.

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