Filey commemorates 241st anniversary of The Battle of Flamborough Head

The White Lodge Hotel in Filey will be raising a flag tonight to mark the 241st anniversary of one of the most significant battles in naval history.

By Lyndsey Young
Wednesday, 23rd September 2020, 10:56 am
Updated Wednesday, 23rd September 2020, 11:00 am
Fiona Clibbens and Kim Hodgson with the flag from the Bonhomme Richard.
Fiona Clibbens and Kim Hodgson with the flag from the Bonhomme Richard.

The battle of Flamborough Head took place on September 23 1779 and was the first major naval victory for the US.

The flag is a replica of that from The Bonhomme Richard, the US warship captained by John Paul Jones that sank off the coast of Filey after the battle with HMS Serapis.

The Filey Bonhomme Richard Research group had planned to mark this significant anniversary with an annual 'John Paul Jones festival' during the last week of September however this is not possible due to Covid-19 restrictions. Instead they will commemorate the start of the battle by firing a rocket at 7pm tonight to signify the start of the battle, and proceed by raising the flag to the accompaniment of a piper. The flag will then be lowered at 10.30pm to signify the end of the battle.

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Plaque situated above the bay.

Tony Green, Chair of the Filey Bay Research Group said:

“Despite Covid-19, we were determined to do something to mark the 241st Anniversary of this very significant and bloody sea battle which took place in Filey Bay. The Bonhomme Richard had a complement of 380 on board including approximately 175 French Nationals (of which there were 137 French Marines), 70 UK nationals (most of whom had been prisoners of war in France but were given their liberty by agreeing to serve), 80 Americans (mainly officers) and 32 boys with the remainder being made up of Norwegians, Swedes and Portuguese. Almost half of these were killed during the battle which raged for over three hours, with a further 100 wounded. British casualties on board the Serapis were estimated to be 137 dead and 67 wounded.

“This year’s simple commemoration will mark the beginning of ambitious plans for the 250th Anniversary of the Battle in 2029 which we hope will include a visit of ships from the US, British and French Navies."

Filey-based historian Dr David Pendleton said: "The Battle of Flamborough Head is one of the defining moments in naval history. Mainly because of the psychological impact it had on the fledgling American nation. It was a huge boost to morale at a difficult moment and gave the new nation a truly international standing.

"Clearly, the arrival of the Bonhomme Richard off the British coast was viewed as an embarrassment for the Royal Navy, but Captain Pearson of the Serapis did his job. Although outgunned, he engaged the joint American-French ships and saved the convoy he was defending. Indeed, had the Serapis and Bonhomme Richard not become entangled, there is every likelihood that he would have won the battle. But John Paul Jones seized the opportunity with both hands, won the day and wrote himself into the history books."

The discovery in recent years of some of the remains of the Bonhomme Richard, off Fileys coast, by marine archaeology firm Merlin Burrows now puts Filey firmly on the map for American tourists who want to experience this significant part of their history first hand.

Bill Rusling, the owner of the White Lodge Hotel, said: "We also wanted the raise the profile of Filey as well. The town is often described as a hidden gem, so it is unsurprising that American tourists, usually on the well-worn trail from London to York and Edinburgh miss us.

"We hope that some might consider diverting to take in a place that has had such resonance on their history."

James Hodgson, previous owner of The White Lodge Hotel and Director for Filey on the Yorkshire Coast Business Improvement District Board said: "I have always been very proud of Filey and the Yorkshire coast, we want to kick start the build up the to 250th anniversary and attract a diverse range of tourism"

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