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Memorial to lifeboat heroes

PUBLISHED: 09:35 03 September 2009 | UPDATED: 14:54 03 July 2010

A forlorn cry for help was enough to send them sailing selflessly into merciless seas - some never to be seen alive again.

And although Norfolk's lost lifeboat heroes have always been proudly remembered in their grieving coastal communities, there has never been a national memorial to their sacrifices.

A forlorn cry for help was enough to send them sailing selflessly into merciless seas - some never to be seen alive again.

And although Norfolk's lost lifeboat heroes have always been proudly remembered in their grieving coastal communities, there has never been a national memorial to their sacrifices.

But today they will be immortalised among the 778 names from across the country which are engraved on a new sculpture at the RNLI's headquarters in Dorset.

The memorial will be unveiled by the Duke of Kent and is the first to represent every crew member to have lost their lives while helping others at sea.

Current crew members and station managers have travelled to Poole for the ceremony, and all of the RNLI stations in the UK and Ireland have been asked to fly flags at half mast.

The list of names engraved on the striking 4.5m sculpture hints at the scale of the maritime disasters which befell our region's crews.

They include 23 from Gorleston, 18 from Yarmouth, two from Cromer, and 20 from the station at Caister, which has been run independently from the RNLI for the last 40 years.

And one of the worst single losses was at Wells, where 11 men drowned after the Eliza Adams capsized on its return from a rescue mission in 1880, leaving 10 widows and 28 children without fathers.

Allen Frary is coxswain of today's Wells lifeboat and the great-grandson of William Bell, one of only two survivors of the tragedy.

“I think this is a fitting memorial for every lifeboat station that has paid the price for trying to help fellow seafarers,” he said.

“At the end of the day, these men made the ultimate sacrifice and what happened 129 years ago to a crew in Wells could, God forbid, happen here tomorrow. Our equipment has changed but the sea has not.”

The Eliza Adams lifeboat had already saved seven crew from the Sharon's Rose when it launched again on October 29, 1880, to assist the Ocean's Queen. On its return the boat capsized in heavy seas, with the weight of water in the sails preventing it from righting itself.

“When the boat was washed ashore, my great grandfather was still in the rigging of the sails,” said Mr Frary. “If he had not survived it, I would not be here today. It is ironic that he was a survivor and I now find myself in the position I have at the boathouse.”

Mr Frary, 56, researched the disaster for its125th anniversary in 2005, and found 90 descendents of the Eliza Adams' crew spread around the country or still living in Wells.

A total of 41 crewmen from Yarmouth and Gorleston have been lost since the formation of the RNLI, including 12 when the lifeboat Rescuer capsized in 1866, and another six from the same vessel the following year.

Neal Duffield, operations manager for Yarmouth and Gorleston lifeboat, will also attend the commemoration.

He said: “It is just incredible to think that you get this huge loss one year and yet there is another crew available to go out the following year. Then there is another huge loss and the service keeps going.

“It is extremely important to remember those who go before us because it is on their experiences we base our progress. We have learned from these disasters and these sacrifices and continue to improve into the future.”

Since the RNLI was founded in 1824 its lifeboat crews and lifeguards have saved more than 137,000 lives.

The stainless steel memorial, designed by Sam Holland, depicts a figure in a boat dragging another out of the water and is inscribed with the motto of the RNLI's founder, Sir William Hillary: “With courage, nothing is impossible.”

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