Frederick Ashby, Coastguard
My new Station was a great change from the first being only 2 of us and housed in a farm house a mile from the sea and where the principal parts of the guards being level and sandy our principal duties lay in watching for wrecks and wreckage. Here also there was an L.S.A for life saving observing that the crews of these apparatuses were exercised every quarter by the Divisional Officer from the Head Stns. when keenness used to be strained to beat the records of previous drills and also amongst the brigade individually in the 2s/6d prize for the furthest throw of the heaving cane, but which was usually spent at the village Inn in drinks later. The object of this cane heaving is in case a person in the water were close in shore or a boat or ship close enough for it to be thrown with effect to save life.
My colleague was a keen rabbiter and having a ferret (which I once saw bite his Thumb through when muzzling) as well as a gamekeepers permission to catch some we usually had some, but not a surfeit of them. At this place we also made friends amongst them Capt. Heddon [and] the Webbs farmers, the latter being very pronounced in their very broad Devon dialect.
During my stay here I was called upon to guard the wreck of a coasting steamer named the “Drumtochty” at Heddons Mouth [Note 2] the extreme limit of my guards. It was the Xmas of 1884 and it was bitterly cold my helpmate and myself having to obtain extempore shelter in a disused limekiln, so that we were not sorry when this job was up.
Two children Carrie and Marjorie were added to my family here and sweet little babies they were. Having now 3 girls the Vicars wife Mrs Toms was interested and during that period there came out an Academy picture titled a “Boy at Last” [Note 3] a copy of which she presented us with, the subject later in April 1888 being realised by the birth of our boy Fred.
As at Clovelly and Croyde we here made many friends, the principals being the Piles at Ilfracombe and the Irwins in the village, my old friend Hennessy at Combe obtained his next step to Chief Boatman and was removed to Tenby in Sth. Wales, but it was not more than a few months later that I was also successful in following him by being promoted back to my old Stn. at Croyde which in the meantime had been augmented by an additional 2 men, the Chf. Btmn being in charge. The old place being familiar we soon settled down to the added duties, and found them periodically required for the use of the Life Saving Apparatus at wrecks and the protection of the salved wrecked property, this at times being arduous especially during the autumn of 1886 and Jany to April 1887 when owing to terrific gales, 3 large ships, one an East Indiaman named the “Nerbudda” were lost with all hands in the Bay and later a French schooner loaded with pit-props washed in bottom upwards on Saunton Sands [Note 4].
In order to define the Naval duties of the Coast Guards as a first Reserve during these and subsequent years, they were in order to maintain the efficiency of their last ratings afloat, and qualify themselves in seamanship and all gunnery drills, divided into 2 sections for embarkation in the District ship, one year for a lengthened cruise with the Fleet and the next for gunnery only in harbour, the latter being for 14 days whilst the former always in summer ranged from 6 to 10 weeks. Consequent on these cruises many places of interest in the British Isles from North to South and beyond them were visited during those in which I were afloat with my section, and one in particular viz. 1883 stands out as of an unusual interest, for the reason that 1st whilst with the Fleet anchored at Heligoland our ship the “Defence” was found to be on fire near the engine room thro a quantity of cotton waste and oil becoming ignited and which took some time for to put out; 2nd when nearing the end of the cruise and performing evening evolutions under the Admiral Anthony Hiley Hoskins after coming out of Blacksod Bay and still off the coast of Ireland we came into collision end on with the “Valiant” twisting our bow ram over and causing the foremost flat to be filled but the bulkhead doors being closed and supported together with the collision mat over the whole we were able to maintain our place in line until we dispersed and came into Plymouth w[h]ere eventually the ship was changed for another named the “Hotspur” and subsequently for a much larger battleship the “Neptune”.
Whilst embarked for these cruises or drills, opportunities were given to anyone of the rating Chief Boatman in charge, Chief or Commissioned Boatman to pass for the rank of Chief Officer, and thus having previously, extending over a period of 2 years thro my old friend Hennessy and others in correspondence etc together with the use of Mathematical and Navigation Books learnt the subjects necessary for Examination, I in Feb. 1887 whilst on my Annual drill passed alright and to my great astonishment was promoted to that rank on the 1st of Novb. scarcely 3 weeks from my Exam: and posted back to my first Station Clovelly to relieve my old C.O. Mr. Burnley retiring thro age at 60.