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Caister Lifeboat's 40th anniversary

PUBLISHED: 11:11 19 October 2009 | UPDATED: 15:20 03 July 2010

The parade for the Caister lifeboat 40th anniversary celebrations

The parade for the Caister lifeboat 40th anniversary celebrations

It was a David and Goliath story befitting villagers who had earned their reputation through brave sacrifice as the men who “never turn back”.

When the RNLI decided to end its 100 year relationship with Caister, near Great Yarmouth, there was really only one course of action for a community whose collective spirit had been toughened over centuries by the harsh North Sea - run their own independent lifeboat station.

Caister coxswain Paul Williams at the memorial to the nine Caister lifeboatmen

It was a David and Goliath story befitting villagers who had earned their reputation through brave sacrifice as the men who “never turn back”.

When the RNLI decided to end its 100 year relationship with Caister, near Great Yarmouth, there was really only one course of action for a community whose collective spirit had been toughened over centuries by the harsh North Sea - run their own independent lifeboat station.

Immediately the RNLI withdrew the Royal Thames lifeboat, a fibre glass dinghy was in place in the lifeboat house to keep the service operational and, within four years, villagers had raised the £4,500 needed to buy the Shirley Jean Adye, a former RNLI Liverpool class boat.

On a sunny, still October day, belying the latent force of the sea and the treachery of the sandbanks offshore, villagers yesterday celebrated 40 years of proud independence with a march to the village graveyard to lay wreaths at the Beauchamp memorial.

The capsizing of the lifeboat Beauchamp with the loss of nine lives in a storm in 1901 remains the station's greatest tragedy and it was at the ensuing inquest that the coroner was defiantly told that “Caister men never turn back”.

Young and old alike symbolised the enduring importance of the lifeboat to the community by standing outside their doors in Beach Road to watch the procession led by the band of 901 Troop Winterton Sea Cadets.

Present day crew members, led by coxswain Paul Williams, were joined by past comrades who have become enshrined in Caister's living history.

They included Percy Griffin, 78, dubbed the “singing bowman” on the Shirley Jean Adye, and Alfred Brown, 89, coxswain on that first independent offshore boat, who recalled the tremendous fundraising, including sponsored walks by Caister High School pupils.

At the graveyard, wreaths were laid by Yarmouth Mayor Tony Smith, coxswain Mr Williams, and parish councillor Tony Baker.

Caister Rector the Rev Tim Thompson urged a moment of reflection regarding the brave men who lost their lives nearly 108 years ago.

Doubtless, thoughts would have wandered also to more recent heroes such as coxswain Benny Read, killed while firing a maroon in 1991.

Following a celebration church service, a special lunch was put on at the lifeboat station, invited guests including Arie de Waart, the Dutch builder of Caister's water jet propelled Valentyn 2000 lifeboat, named Bernard Matthews 11 in honour of the station's biggest benefactor, and officially launched in 2005 by Prince Charles and the Duchess of Cornwall.

The next chapter of the Caister lifeboat story was then begun by the High Steward of Great Yarmouth, Michael Falcon, who officially opened an impressively-revamped visitor centre in the old lifeboat shed.

Donations and sponsorship have paid for a £25,000 makeover for the shed with interpretation panels telling the story from the establishment of a beach company in 1794 and the placing of the first lifeboat on station in 1845. Pride of place in the display goes to the Shirley Jean Adye which was donated back to the station to exhibit in 2005.

The work has been carried out by Yarmouth firm Cubic Design and Construction whose managing-director Michael Hubbard is the descendant of one of the lost Beauchamp heroes.

Lifeboat chairman Paul Garrod said: “This will be an asset for the village and has been done for the community of which the lifeboat has always been a part.

“A lot of people come in here and ask questions and this answers most of the questions they ask.”

For more pictures see this Friday's Mercury

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