Last man on board – liner captain is now a forgotten sea hero
He saved more than 500 lives and was feted around the world for valour, yet Plymouth-born mariner Captain Francis Inch has become the city's forgotten hero.
A century ago, Capt Inch was at the helm of the Volturno, a liner with 600 people on board which caught fire in the mid-Atlantic.
Though more than 100 perished in the inferno, many more were rescued against the odds because of the bravery of the ship's captain who, true to maritime tradition, was last to leave his sinking vessel.
Capt Inch's great-nephew, Alan Jones, who lives in Plympton, said he was very proud of a man who modestly dismissed his courageous feat as "just doing my duty."
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"It's amazing to think what happened all those years ago," said Mr Jones, 79.
"I never knew him as he died two years before I was born, but he used to visit my grandmother, who had a greengrocer shop in Stoke.
"She would talk about him a lot and say he was a hero."
Dentist's son Francis Inch was born in Plymouth in 1877 and like many young men in the city decided to seek his fortune on the high seas.
He worked his way up the ladder at a number of shipping lines and was captain of the SS Volturno when it set sail from Rotterdam to New York in October 1913.
The ship was carrying more than 600 people, mostly immigrants travelling steerage on their way to America to start a new life.
However, the non-human cargo was a potent mixture of chemicals which during a violent storm in the Atlantic – as far from land as it was possible to be – caught fire.
Despite attempts to quell the flames, things went from bad to worse when the contents of the hold exploded and the fire spread to the ship's coal bunker.
An SOS had been transmitted, but with no help on the horizon, Captain Inch gave the order to abandon ship.
Gun in hand, he was forced to fight off mutinous, terrified crewmen to ensure that women and children were first in the lifeboats.
Tragically, the 136 who were first to leave the ship were killed as their tiny boats were tossed around in 30-foot waves and dashed against the hull of the heaving, burning ship.
As dawn broke the following day, the SS Volturno found itself at the centre of a major rescue effort involving 11 ships which had answered the SOS call and sent their own lifeboats who saved a total of 521 passenger and crew.
Mr Jones said Capt Inch was the very last to leave his stricken ship. The still-smouldering vessel was scuttled a week later.
"There was no-one in sight when the ship caught fire, land was a long way and there was no air sea rescue service," said Mr Jones. "They would have thought they were on their own.
"But the story of what had happened to the Volturno became famous around the world.
"Everyone knew the name of Captain Francis Inch.
"When he came back to Britain he was treated like a hero. He was awarded the Lloyd's of London Silver Medal and the Quiver Gold Medal for valour.
"A special reception was held for him by the Lord Mayor of London and he was awarded the Freedom of the City of London. He was given a silver tea service, a purse of gold and his wife was given a diamond pendant."
Despite his fame around the world, Mr Jones said that his illustrious ancestor remained a modest man who told people "I was just doing my duty."
Capt Inch, who died aged just 54, retained strong family connections to Plymouth, where his wife Lisa was also born.
His great-nephew said it was a pity that a man who was an international star in his day should have been forgotten.
"He is Plymouth's forgotten hero."