Flashback Friday | Lifesaver James Peryman loses life in North Cronulla rescue

The mass rescue at North Cronulla in February, in which at least 45 swimmers were brought to safety by lifesavers and lifeguards, rekindled memories of the bravery of another lifesaver at the same beach 69 years ago.

Surf club captain Major James "Jim" Peryman lost his life in 1950 trying to save 16-year-old Daphne Knowles, who was dragged out to sea in a rip.

Peryman Square at North Cronulla is named in his honour and he is also remembered in the national surfing reserve covering the Bate Bay beaches.

In 2008, following the efforts of North Cronulla club officials, Major Peryman was posthumously recognised with the highest award for bravery given by Surf Life Saving Australia.

Peryman Place will always hold great significance for Sutherland Shire residents because it is also the site of the memorial to the seven young women from the area who died in the terrorist bombing in Bali in 2002.

North Cronulla Surf Life Saving Club history records that, at the time of 1950 tragedy, it had just opened a new clubhouse - the one that stands today and is about to be redeveloped - was one of the strongest clubs in the association and "was on a high".

"All this strength, mateship and high morale was tested when on the 19th February 1950, club captain Major James "Jim" Peryman, lost his own life while performing a belt, line and reel rescue of a swimmer in very treacherous seas at North Cronulla Beach," the club history says.

"Jim Peryman was awarded (posthumously) the Royal Humane Society's Silver Medal and Certificate of Merit that now hang proudly in the Judd Room."

A detailed description of the rescue was given in a speech in Federal Parliament in 2009 by the MP for Cook and present Prime Minister Scott Morrison.

Mr Morrison said:

"On 19 February, 1950 at approximately 4 pm, Daphne Knowles, aged 16, was swimming about 25 metres from the shore at North Cronulla when she was caught in a notorious rip near 'the alley'.

"After she had been swept about 300 metres, she managed to cling to a surf ski which was being paddled by a member of the North Cronulla Surf Life Saving Club.

"Other surf lifesavers also managed to make it through the break to reach her, but by this time she was exhausted.

"Club Captain 'Major' James Peryman, known as Jim, aged 24, was observing from the beach and realised the situation was critical.

"A member of North Cronulla's champion R&R team and an accomplished swimmer with considerable knowledge of local surf conditions, Jim summoned another reel, line and belt team from the patrol and ran to the northern end of the beach.

"After a tremendously difficult swim, during which he strained against the weight of the line, Jim managed to reach Daphne.

"He took control of the patient and eventually the line began hauling him and Daphne back to the beach.

"He was assisted by another surf lifesaver visiting from Queensland, Frank Bergstron.

"Jim continued to hold Daphne until he disappeared under the water, his line weighed down by the massive amount of seaweed in the water at the time.

"Jim was last seen conscious with his back towards the beach, an apparent sign that he was still prepared to rescue Daphne.

"Daphne was eventually taken to the beach by another surf ski and was safe.

"During a lengthy haul-in, with increasing weight on the line, the linesman observed in the shallows of the sandbank a mass of seaweed.

"They raced to the scene and after frantically digging through the weed found the unconscious Jim Peryman.

"After numerous resuscitation efforts, Jim was transferred to the St George Hospital where the resident medical officer pronounced his death.

"Jim was posthumously awarded a silver medal and certificate of merit by the Royal Shipwreck Relief and Humane Society.

"He has been acknowledged now in our local community also with the naming of Peryman Square at North Cronulla and, most recently, at the dedication of Australia's first national surf reserve on Cronulla's beaches in Bate Bay.

"However it was not until this year's National Surf Life Saving Championship in Perth that he was acknowledged by Surf Life Saving Australia.

"Thanks to the efforts of North Cronulla Surf Life Saving Club life members, Allan Cameron, Edward Larsen, Harry Brown and club patron Warren Rennie, together with the late Bill Marshall, patron of the Cronulla Surf Life Saving Club, in recognition of the fact that he continued to rescue at the risk of his own life, 'Major' James Peryman was awarded posthumously Surf Life Saving Australia's highest recognition for bravery, the Meritorious Award Silver Medallion.

"Jim is one of 40 such recipients in the movement's more than 100 years proud history, joining the shire's E Salisury Baker from the Cronulla club, who received the award in 1944 for his rescue of a shark victim, Keith Weir, at Forster Beach.

"I commend Surf Life Saving Australia for their long overdue recognition of 'Major' Jim Peryman and thank all of our surf lifesavers, particularly those from our Bate Bay clubs,who follow in Jim's footsteps every summer, putting themselves at risk to protect our safety."


Every Friday we delve into the Leader archives to embark on some time travel.

We will bring you photographs of a news event from 59 years of Leader news coverage that you may or may not recall.

Flashback Friday submissions are also welcomed.

Feel free to share your recollections with us on our Facebook page @SutherlandShireStGeorgeNews or email leaderletters@fairfaxmedia.com.au