It is not in any way an account of "how brave the author was" - or similar thoughts.
Details of the author's background can be found elsewhere in the site, and how his upbringing promoted the concept of voluntary community service, leading to his making himself available as a "runner for a belt" at the Margate Life-boat station when he did.
Yes, back in the 1950's, just after World War 2, there was far less regulation over safety for employees and so on, and "state of the art" equipment in many cases should have really been more accurately described as "state of the ark" - Noah's ark - because the only visible development of improvements had been military for the previous 20 years or so, and new technology had't yet emerged.
But you can never eliminate personal risks where people - whether volunteers or paid employees are concerned - are in a working environment that is part of the emergency support network that most countries have set up, usually over decades, or in some cases, over centuries.
An example might be from the mid and late 1970's when in my spare time and being in my thirties, I was a volunteer firefighter in South Australia's "Emergency Fire Service" (aka "EFS"), later to become the "Country Fire Service", where one night our brigade was called out to assist a householder with their blazing timber-framed home which had caught alight in the early hours of the morning, and we needed to turn off the control valves on the two gas bottles outside the kitchen window, then unscrew them from the wall and roll them away from the flames to prevent a potential explosion due to their high temperature from having being in the fire.
Such situations can never be subject to rules and regulations of what "employees" must, or indeed, must not do.
Emergencies are always emergencies, and participants, like soldiers on a jungle patrol, have to be able to make snap decisions which will potentially endanger them and their colleagues' lives, and they need to have total confidence that their colleagues are able - to coin a phrase from Admiral Nelson's famous signal to his entire fleet two centuries before, that "England expects that this day every man will do his duty".
Something that used to be taught to young lads in Scouting. Something known to policemen and all others involved in hazardous pursuits.
Moving on, the lifeboat service in the UK was and still is unique in its being entirely voluntary, as was much of the coast-watching service, called H.M. Coastguard, and I offer a glimpse of it here on this site as it was, without whizzbang technology in the 1950's. No pagers. No mobile phones. No personal 2-way radios. Very little intrusion into life by legislators. Safety clothing was not - to any great extent - a right, people did not expect to be looked after by a "Nanny State", and you and your mates were there for each other. As world war 2 soldiers, sailors and airmen a decade before knew it.
In South Australia, we have an autonomous member body of the nationwide "Australian Volunteer Coastguard", fulfilling a similar and unpaid role like the UK Coastguard.
Our equivalent in South Australia to the Royal National Life-boat Institution (RNLI) is the South Australian Sea Rescue Squadron. Different names, similar function, but the same determination to save lives, and where possible property as well. Many people do not realise that those who go out to save lives are motivated to do just that.
Not to save property for reward, but human lives, which are a much more precious commodity than a set of sails, a boat's hull, engines and steering gear. A fact that emerges from the Court of Enquiry on the Penlee Life-boat Disaster in 1981 which shows the understandable motivation for the "Union Star" not accepting a tow by the Dutch tug "Noorde Holland" was purely because of the inbuilt financial liability imposed through the "Lloyds' Open Form" and the salvage fees that could be enforced as a result.
Eight lifeboatmen and eight people on the "Union Star" would have been directly saved from drowning, if greed for money had not entered the equation. Truly.
If you continue your way through this site you will eventually encounter a magnificent hour-long documentary by the UK National Broadcaster - the BBC - about the Cornish village of Mousehole (pronounced "Mowz'l" not far from Lands End, which provided the crew for the life-boat staioned at Penlee Point just south of Penzance. For some years she had been the double-diagonal clad timber hull boat, the state of the (current 1981 art) Watson Cabin class the "Solomon Browne", of the same design and build as the Margate Life-Boat "North Foreland" in which I served for several years.
More on that later.
That documentary and many other films and photo images have been found on the internet because of the enormous collective archives that have been built by many webmasters, and I have endeavoured to attribute sources, which with historic collections is not always possible. We are richly blessed these days by the technology that has developed, making such a job possible.
Having been a member of the crew of the Margate Lifeboat for part of the 1950s, I feel immensely proud that as a young man just turned 20, I was able to rub shoulders with others who felt that like the men of Lord Nelson's flotilla, that they should "do their duty".
A very important point to share here is that a lifeboatman doesn't go to sea just because he volunteers.
The Coxswain has to have total trust in the volunteer. He has to be confident that everyone he accepts to serve alongside him and the rest of the crew has proved himself as being competant in the boat, and can be trusted in all his actions, because all the crew's lives may well depend on what one member does at one particular moment. This takes time in training the volunteer, who is initially accepted as one of the "helpers on shore" as a sort of apprenticeship.
In the documentary on the (Cornish) Penlee Disaster just before Christmas in 1981 - which I didn't discover until 2013, it is explained that the Cox'n of the "Solomon Browne", Trevelyan Richards, on that fateful night, used an additional parameter in his choice of crew.
He only took one man from each family, to mitigate the community effect if the whole crew (including he himself) were to die.
And I value the trust in me, which Margate Cox'n Dennis Price, 2nd Cox'n Ted Parker, and Mechanic Alf Lacey must have had when one wintry night in a blustery gale and rolling seas, Dennis called down from the deck of the "North Foreland" to me, on the slipway below, to me shouting over the wierd noises a gale can make "You coming with us Dick? Grab a belt!"
It was just like when I first went solo as a trainee pilot in the Royal Air Force, perhaps 4 years earlier, and my instructor got out of his seat, climbed on to the wing of the Percival Prentice we were flying together, and said to me "Okay, go do a circuit and landing, and come back to me here" and then jumped down to the tarmac.
On both occasions my immediate reaction was "No, I'm not ready". But obedience at sea and in the air are crucial to the mission. And at sea you never say "Very Good sir" because that implies you can equally say "Very bad sir" - at least that was how it was explained to me. There is only one possible response at sea. "Aye, aye, sir"
Thank you for reading so far. I hope you feel satisfied this site isn't an exercise in self-promotion. It is a tribute to many much greater men than I, much braver, much more skilled, and much "better men" than I.
1st July 2013.
Here is a link to a pdf about the Civil Service Life-Boat Fund of recent times, which due to considerable changes in the structure of the British Civil Service, has also changed its name. And several paragraphs below we can see a view of North Foreland, the physical feature at the eastern end of the Thames estuary's southern coast.
and another as the North Foreland was for many years also the home of not just the lighthouse but also the coastal radio station which continually advised mariners of weather conditions, traffic lists, navigational hazards and emergencies. with regular broadcasts at three minutes past the hour.
Why 3 minutes past the hour and half hour?
Looking at the clock face on the left, you will notice two three-minute-long green colured segments at the top and the bottom, which are periods during which no "voice" (speech) or Radio-telephone (R/T) traffic is passed.
The reasoning is simple. A vessel in distress may well have no auxiliary power to keep its batteries charged up, and low batteries can mean considerably lower power than usual to send out signals for help. Equally, a vessel in distress may well have lost a mast or part of the antenna system which can cause inefficient radiation of energy, resluting in a weaker received signal. And finally the ability to hear a shore station from a vessel, or to be heard by a shore station, depends upon what are called "isotropic" conditions which will vary on time of day, time of year, sunspots... a whole raft of different things.
The red segments at 15 minutes and 45 minutes past each hour have been abandoned for some years since firstly the "auto-alarm" system was set up to replace morse code (Wireless Telegraphy or W/T), and finally global satellite communications, a whizzbang new technology concept which supposedly works better. Not all share this view.
If you click here, you can see what the lowest grade of maritime radio operator's "ticket" used to look like. Much smaller than a regular A4-sized certificate designed for framing, this is sealed in a plastic pouch designed to be carried in a shirt pocket. The certificate had its name changed in the 1980's and the design is altogether different now.
When I sat for my 3CCOCP back in 1972, the practical and morse tests, and viva-voce (question and answer one-on-one with the examiner (who was the District Radio Inspector) was conducted in the radio room of the recently launched MV "Clutha Capricorn" (callsign VMCC) which was the largest vessel to ever be built in the Whyalla shipyards.
We could only launch her under specific weather conditions (calm seas, zero wind, and high water springs) and we needed six tugs (three each end) to turn her after launching - as she was only a couple of metres short of the mminimum width of the basin!
Would I have liked to work at GNF (North Foreland Radio) in the 50's? Yes, and had I done so, I might never have come to Australia which would have lost me many life experiences. But, I would not have had the theory and practical background to obtain a "First Class" Radiocommunication "ticket" which would have been a prerequisite. No sour grapes (grin)
Just round the corner of North Foreland, in the small seaside community of Broadstairs (which used to have a life-boat until Margate and Ramsgate both were provided with motor life-boats) there used to be a shipbuilding firm which relocated to the Isle of Wight and which was to be a major provider of Watson Cabin class motor lifeboats. This was J. Samuel White.
The Lifeboat provided to the Margate station in 1951 was built by J. Samuel White, and her order number on the shipyard's books was 898.
The plans in Consulting Naval Architect to the Institution Mr. J. R. Barnett's excellent book "Modern Motor Lifeboats" (1933, Blackie and Sons), reprinted 1950 (my copy) shows the General Arrangement drawings for the first of that class they built, Order Number 867. in 1948.
It would appear that Mr. Barnett was a Scotsman (like many shipbuilders are) who lived in Glasgow.
He may have been known to my paternal grandfather, Captain Henry Gordon Gooch Ashton, who in the first decade of the 1900s was employed by the City of Liverpool and twice received the Humane Society's medal for gallantry for saving life at sea by jumping overboard - not just once, but twice, in the bitter winters of the Irish Sea - to perform a rescue of a man washed overboard from another ship. A 60ft long life-boat of Mr. Barnett's design, stationed at New Brighton (just to the west of of Liverpool and Birkenhead) early in that century, was a significant help in saving life in the Liverpool area. Here is an illustration from Mr. Barnett's book...
please click on image to access the next page, about some of the earlier history about Margate. Thank you.
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last updated 21st November 2013
this is www.rnli.southaust.net