Dear Captain Small
A local Pembrokeshire man’s words describing the night the ship Thomas M. Reed was wrecked at Freshwater West beach.
“Dear Captain Small.
Most probably you have forgotten me. However I have not forgotten you nor the circumstances under which we became acquainted.
The other evening while sitting by the fireside, smoking my pipe, I went back in imagination to that January morning in 1879 when I hurried off to Freshwater Bay to assist the Angle Coast guards in getting the crew ashore from the Thomas M. Reed. The whole scene passes in review before my eyes as plainly as it did on that memorable morning, from the time the rocket was fired until you were riding in the bows of the tram cart over the sand dunes to the little village of Castlemartin.
How the waves washed over your poor ship and yourselves, hiding you for seconds from sight as we stood on the little bluff watching you. And when your mate got into the cradle, didn’t we haul on that line in the fond hope of getting him on shore. But alas, we failed and when we got his poor drowned body to the side of the bluf, I shudder as I thought of how, in stooping to pick him up, my foot slipped off the rock and down I went into the sea up to my waist. Then I saw three men try to swim ashore; the excitement of securing the first man as he rose on the crest of the breaker and the joy as he was seized and carried in. It was I who wiped the salt water out of his eyes and took the overcoat off my back to put on him. Then he was off on horseback behind a farmer to warmth and food. Then I see a mulatto reach the shore and then a poor fellow sink under the waves, unable to breast the current. Later I see you all coming hand over hand on the hawser and we hasten into the sea to help you all. I almost feel now the grip Mr. Guthrie gave my arm as I assisted him through the surf. I also picture the cabin boy who was the last to come over the hawser, being picked up by two men who were carrying him.
I asked, ‘Where is the Captain?’ and a tall, elderly looking gentleman, barefooted and scantily clothed, said ‘I was the captain sir’. How very sorry I did feel for you as you endeavored to pick your way through the strewn wreckage lining the shore, and I gave you my arm and helped you to climb up the sand hill; and when I failed in this, called to our assistance a young man standing above us.
How we got you into the car; how the horses backed, threatening to send you all down the hill until we seized the wheels and helped the horses get a start for Castlemartin, with a little cheer. When we got to the top of the hill, it was I who gave you the information as to where you were, and pointed out St Ann’s lighthouse. ‘Then,’ said you, ‘Milford must be close by’. ‘Yes’, said I, ‘It is over yonder, but out of sight,’ pointing in the direction. You subsequently gave me, or rather told me, as I wrote on the back of an old envelope, the wording of a telegram to send to the ship’s agent at Liverpool, and this I carried out.
Well, after all this scene passes through my mind, I determined I would write to you and wish you a Merry Christmas, I hope this will find you and reach you in time for Christmas Day, so that my congratulations may be seasonable. I hope that you are not displeased in hearing from me. When I eat my dinner on Christmas Day, among many other absent friends, I shall not forget to drink the health and a Merry Christmas to Captain Small”.
John Shankland, Kidwelly, December 12th 1893.