Newquay Drowning Tragedies, August 1937

Being peak season, most sea drownings occur in the month of August and 1937 was no exception.  75 years ago the beaches were busy and people lost their lives.

On Sunday 22 August 1937 there had already been a boy drowned at Watergate Bay, Newquay. Joseph Nicklin‘s body was found three days later, a fateful day as three other drownings occurred on that Wednesday. Newquay Drowned Niked


On Tuesday 24 August 1937, William Robert Anderson Matthews, a 29 year old holidaymaker from 26 St Chads Road, Rubery, Birmingham, drowned at West Pentire, Crantock Beach while on holiday with his parents and wife, Gloria Adelaide Matthews (nee Dyer).  All four of them were in the water, when Mr Matthews senior got into trouble.  Knowing his father had a weak leg, the son went to the rescue of his father and then both of them were in trouble.  William and Gloria had only been married a little more than a year.

A Major Hamilton, a visitor staying at West Pentire, grabbed a small rowing boat and set out to assist.  He managed to get the father into the boat, but then the boat capsized, and both of them were thrown into the water. He succeeded in rescuing Mr Matthews senior, but by then the son had disappeared from view.


On Wednesday 25 August 1937, there was a double drowning tragedy at Treyarnon, with two men drowned trying to save two women who had got into difficulties.

  • Mr William Herbert Langmaid, a 37 year old married man of 10 Beacon Down Avenue, Plymouth. He was a chemist’s assistant who left a widow and child.
  • 22 year old Edward Neil d’Orton Gibson, a commercial traveller of Broadhurst Avenue Edgeware, Middlesex, who had been staying at Trevithick House, Tredinnick, Newquay.

Mr John Stuart Langmaid of 102 Mount Wise, Newquay, identified one body. Edward Gibson’s wife had been on the beach at the time, but was unaware of what was going on.

Mrs Mabel Coker, wife of the manager of Cliffdene Hotel, Narrowcliff, Newquay, was one of the women rescued. She had been paddling with a visitor, Mrs Wootton. They were just up to their knees in water and with no intention of going swimming, when a huge wave swept them off their feet and dragged them out to sea. They shouted and saw people coming to help them, but then Mrs Coker lost consciousness.

The two Gibson brothers were the first to hear the women’s cry for help and the first to start the rescue.  A human chain was formed, but the two rescuers were washed out to sea. Even the rescuers were in trouble and some needed to be rescued themselves.  The two bodies were found in a cove at Trevose Head, about 10 days after they disappeared, just a few hundred yards from where they’d drowned.

Dudley Roy Gibson, Edward Gibson’s brother, had also been part of the human chain, but had himself also been rescued, Samuel Frederick Gibson was the father of both boys and was present at the inquest, becoming quite upset that the rescued ladies hadn’t remembered his boys, but, instead, had only recalled the two medical students who pulled them up the beach.

Later in the year the Carnegie Hero Fund Trustees awarded Edward Gibson’s parents with a memorial certificate and £50. William Langmaid’s widow was awarded a memorial certificate and financial assistance for herself and their child.

Early in 1938 the Royal Humane Society awarded Dudley Gibson with a parchment award for his bravery. His mother, Mrs Gibson, was presented with a bronze memorial by Sir Robert Burton Chadwick, Vice President of the Royal Humane Society. Mr Stanley EA Williams, aged 35, received an award for his rescue of Dudley Gibson.

Mr Eric CB Edwards, a solicitor from Leigh-on-Sea, who helped to save Mrs Wootton and Mrs Mabel Coker, was also presented with an award by the Mayor.

At Sheffield University, two medical students, aged 21, were presented with awards for their part in the rescues. Mr Francis D Birks was presented with an award for saving Mrs Wootton. Mr Richard A Trevethick, was presented with an award for saving Mrs Coker.

Fistral Beach

Another drowning at Newquay on Wednesday 25 August 1937 was on Fistral Beach, when William Henry Whatmough, a 56 year old wireless engineer of 121 Katherine Street, Ashton-under-Lyne, was drowned.

William and Annie Whatmough were on holiday with another couple, Mr and Mrs Ralph Nixon of 107 Haughton Green, Manchester. Of the party of four, only William had gone in for a swim.

Another holidaymaker, Frederick Thomas Holmes of 5 Oberstein Road, London, W11 was also in the sea and spotted William’s body floating face downwards 120 yards from the shore and realised he wasn’t swimming. Frederick rescued William and two Doctors who were on the beach gave artificial respiration, but he couldn’t be saved.

Dr Hugh George Robinson from Saltash had just been for a swim and got dressed when he heard somebody’d drowned, so went to assist. William Whatmough’s daughter said that her father was a strong swimmer, so was at a loss to understand how he’d drowned. The Beach Inspector said that there was a huge undertow on Fistral Beach that day, the strongest he’d seen of the season.

It’s now been 75 years since that date and, unfortunately, people are still losing their lives on the beaches.  RIP.


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