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Shortly after 10.30pm during a vicious storm off the Cornish coast in March 1907, the thick fog covering the Lizard peninsula was briefly pierced by the red glow of a distress rocket. The flare, accompanied by the eerie sound of a ship's horn rising above the howling gale, was spotted by villagers in the fishing communities on the famously treacherous rocky outcrop.

The 524 passengers and crew crowded on board the stricken SS Suevic did not yet know it but the largest - and perhaps the greatest - forgotten rescue in the 183-year history of the RNLI had begun.

During the ensuing 16 hours, the 60 crewmen of four wooden lifeboats stationed around the Lizard made multiple journeys in dense fog and towering seas to bring to safety 456 men, women and children on board the stricken liner. Incredibly, not a single life was lost.

The 12,000-ton Suevic, owned by the White Star Line which two years later commissioned the SS Titanic, was on the final leg of a voyage from Australia to Southampton on 17 March 1907 when it hit the Maenheere Reef - a belt of half-submerged rocks a mile off the Lizard.

The subsequent rescue was accomplished with remarkable feats of bravery and sang froid, from the village woman who waded into the waves in darkness to bring children to shore, to the captain of the Suevic who conducted the evacuation while calmly smoking his cigar, not once letting the ash fall to the ground, and to the Cornish vicar who found himself leading the rescue from one of the boats.

The SS Suevic rescue is a feat unsurpassed in the history of the charity.

Photos courtesy of RNLI & White Star Line

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