Two Childen Saved from Drowning on Nefyn Beach
(Dau Blentyn yn Cael ei Achub ar Draeth Nefyn)

July 22, 1948

It was around 11:00am on Thursday morning July 22, 1948, and fisherman Lawrence Owen was on his way down to the beach in Nefyn. After leaving home at 6 Church Street, he stopped at Jimmy Trenholme’s Blue Garage for a gallon of petrol. He talked for a few minutes with Jimmy and Dick Pant, before walking briskly up Church Street through the Groes and up the hill. Leaving the petrol can outside, he stopped in Guto Parry’s shop opposite the Church for a haircut, and an ounce of tobacco. There was no one waiting, and Guto was a very fast hair cutter. After the haircut and purchasing the tobacco, Lawrence proceeded with the petrol can along St. David’s Road and on to the cliff path towards the beach.

He had already been down the beach earlier at around 5:30am in the morning. He had taken his motorboat down to Trwyn Trefor, Gorllwyn (the base of the Rival mountains), Bird Rock, and Bodeilias Point to check his lobster pots on the eastern side of Nefyn Bay. The weather was nice and calm. It had been a good morning with a decent lobster catch. He had caught enough mackerel on the way down to bait the pots. All the lobsters had been claw-tied, and secured in the large keeping pot hidden amongst the motorboat moorings. In the afternoon, he was planning to check the lobster pots on the western side of Nefyn Bay including Porthdinllaen Point, the Patches, and Abergeirch.

Nefyn lobster fishermen in the 1940's. On the left Richard Jones (Dicw) and on the right Lawrence Owen.

He was in partnership at the time with another fisherman Richard Jones (Dicw) who lived at Ty Pella, 4 Fron Terrace, Nefyn. They both had motorboats. In their business, they shared the profits from selling the lobsters locally, and alternated daily on fishing and baiting the pots. They also independently ran mackerel fishing trips, and pleasure trips for English visitors to Bird Rock with their motorboats. Both had been very busy all winter building pots. Dicw preferred the rounded or flat-bottomed, willow–based, top entrance, versions out of Aberdaron. There was a large pile of them in the garden in front of his house every spring. Lawrence preferred the D-shaped, wire or twine-based pots, which he was slowly converting into the so-called parlour types he had read about in the Fishing News (another story).

The tide was coming in and on the inside of the creigiau bach breakwater as he came down the cliff path to the corner of the beach. The schools were now closed, and there were lots of visitors on holidays in town. Many were on the beach already, and the bathing huts along the beach at the base of the cliffs appeared to be all rented. Several visitors were having tea or coffee in the little LaCasina café at the bottom of the cliff path. The café was owned and operated by the Wales’ sisters who lived in the LaCasina house on top of the cliffs on Ty’n Pwll lane. One of the sisters, who was serving ice cream to some children at the time, waved to Lawrence as he passed by. He walked by the fishermen’s sheds and stopped in the last one to talk briefly to Dicw about the morning’s catch. Dicw had a mackerel fishing trip arranged for later in the day, and Lawrence indicated he was going to take care of the rest of the pots in the afternoon. It would be Dicw’s turn the following morning to fish the pots.

The white triangle markers show Lawrence's shed, the slipway, the accident spot at sea, and the beach where the children were brought ashore on July 22, 1948.

Lawrence then continued past Penogfa, along the footpath and the wall in front of the cottages, and up the slight incline to his beach shed. He opened the door, placed the petrol can inside, and proceeded to put on his sea-boots. He placed two feather mackerel fishing lines and a pair of rowlocks in the fish box he normally took with him, picked up the petrol can, and proceeded down towards the slipway in the corner where he had pulled up his rowing boat earlier in the morning.

As he reached the boat, he noticed something white floating in the bay just on the inside of the moored motorboats by the rocks approximately 100 yards from shore. He thought nothing of it for a minute, but then a woman came running out of the rocks shouting frantically that a canoe had overturned in the bay with three small children in it. Lawrence dropped the petrol can and box, and quickly dragged his boat down the slipway into the water. He jumped in and rowed out aggressively towards the capsized canoe. When he got there, he saw one boy holding on to the side of the canoe, but no sign of the other two. He quickly pulled off his sea-boots and dived in. He immediately picked up one child, a boy aged about two-and-a-half, limp near the sea bottom. He surfaced, dumped the boy in the boat, and went down for the second child. He failed to see the child on the first dive, but located her, a five-year-old girl, on the second dive. She was in the middle of the grassy–looking seaweed that grows out of the sand in that area of the bay. The grassy seaweed is visible on the surface at low spring tides. The girl was unresponsive as well. He grabbed her by the hand, pulled her out of the seaweed, brought her to the surface, and dumped her in the boat. He lifted himself back into the boat over the stern, and was assisted by visitors in another boat to quickly pull in the boy still clinging to the canoe. Lawrence told the visitors to grab his boat’s anchor rope and to tow him fast towards shore. He then bent the two unconscious small children stomach-down over the boats centre seat, and proceeded to just press on their backs. He persisted in his efforts, using one hand on each child, until the boy finally started to respond coughing, vomiting, and spluttering seawater from mouth and nose. Lawrence continued pressing the back of the little girl now with both hands. Just before reaching shore, and much to his relief, she began to respond as well. Other people then joined in to help, taking the children out of the boat, and placing them on towels on the sand. Dr. Hughes-Jones, the local doctor, came down to the beach a little later, and although the children seemed fine, the doctor took the little girl to the hospital in Pwllheli as a precaution.

Lawrence meanwhile asked someone to take care of his boat so he could go home and change out of his wet clothes. He picked up the fish box and petrol can off the slipway, and returned them to his shed. He walked back along the beach, past Screw Road, and climbed the cliff path to go home through “lleiniau” and the back streets of Nefyn. He said later that he went home that alternate way, because he didn’t want people to see him in his soaking wet clothes.

My recollection of the incident, as a seven-year-old at the time, was of my father’s efforts to dry out the tobacco on the stove that evening, of my mother saying a day or so later that a Caernarvon and Denbigh Herald newspaper reporter from Pwllheli was coming to our house, and of my father belittling the whole incident as “making so much bloody fuss about something any person would have done”.

Newspaper article on the incident, and the Royal Humane Society Certificate that Lawrence Owen received on September 21, 1948.

The children were brothers and sister from an English family living in Erdington, near Birmingham, and the family was on holiday in nearby Llangwnadl. No one seemed to know why those small children were so far out in Nefyn bay in their family’s canoe without any parental supervision on that July morning 60 years ago. For his quick response that day, Lawrence Owen was awarded a certificate from the Royal Humane Society on September 14, 1948, for saving and resuscitating the lives of two children on Nefyn beach.

Dr. Brian Owen
Emmaus, PA, USA

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