FORGOTTEN hero Harry Watts has finally been celebrated – exactly 100 years after he died.
The Sunderland diver rescued dozens of people from drowning in the Wear, but sadly his name had faded from memory over the years.
However, two Wearside authors are hoping to bring him back into the spotlight – with support from a well-known writer.
Richard Callaghan and David Simpson, both from Durham City, put pen to paper to retell brave Harry’s story.
The pair, who both work for publishing company My World, based in Rainton Bridge, joined celebrations at Sunderland’s Museum and Winter Garden, where a meeting room has been named after the lifesaver to mark the centenary of his death.
Richard, 26, said they were inspired to tell Harry’s tale after Sunderland-born history author Terry Deary told them about his mission to make the city hero famous.
“We knew who he was but didn’t know a massive amount about him,” he said.
“When you start digging you realise how important he was.
“It was quite a tragic story.”
Co-author David, 44, added: “He had some amazing challenges in his life - severe illness, two wives died, his mother-in-law went missing.”
Pupils from Grangetown and Newbottle primary schools also joined the event, to sing a song based on the life on the East End lad’s life.
City author Terry Deary set out to make Harry famous, after discovering his incredible life, with help from Echo nostalgia writer, Sarah Stoner.
Terry, who is working on a series of adult history books called Dangerous Days, said: “This book is something that can be passed around schools, something concrete children can get their hands on.
“They don’t need to come to a museum or go looking for a blue plaque.
“Harry Watts can come to you.”
Harry’s relatives Val Nichols, from Crook, and Gillian Wesson, from Durham, were at the book launch and have avidly read about their great uncle, three times removed.
Gillian, who lives in Old Esh, said proudly: “He was a true British hero.”
Harry Watts: The Forgotten Hero, is available at www.myworld.co.uk.
A career of bravery to safeguard others
HARRY Watts was born into a life of poverty in Sunderland’s East End in 1826, the youngest of five children.
His first job was at the age of nine, working at the Garrison Pottery, but constant hunger eventually drove him to go to sea.
With his first voyage, at 14, came his first rescue, when a fellow apprentice fell overboard and nearly drowned on the way to Quebec.
The life-saving dramas continued as he worked as a diver on the Wear and in the next three decades he saved another 26 lives.
He was also a Sunderland Lifeboat and Life Brigade volunteer and assisted in saving another 120 people.
But courageous Harry did not confine himself to rescuing the living. In 1879 he dived for bodies following the Tay Bridge disaster and in 1883 he pulled crushed children from a tragic stampede at the Victoria Hall.
Finally, his bravery was recognised in the 1860s with a clutch of medals. A decade later they were stolen, however, while on display at James Williams Street Christian Lay Church.
It was left to an American, the philanthropist millionaire Andrew Carnegie, to finally offer Harry a financial reward for his bravery – in the form of a small pension in his old age.
After a life packed with heroism, Harry passed away on St George’s Day, 1913. Sunderland Cemetery in Grangetown was his final resting place – where a weathered stone still marks the spot.