Warm tributes to true lifeboat legend who 'knew everyone and loved a pint'

Billy Read who has died

Billy Read, one of the last of Caister's lifeboat legends who helped set up the independent service in 1969. - Credit: Philip Crowe

Like many of his seafaring kind his horizons rarely stretched beyond his village and the workplace waves he knew like the back of his hand.

Billy Read, a lifeboatman for 60 years, has died in the same Caister cottage he was born in. He was 85.

Possessing the kind of seafaring knowledge that has all but gone, he was among the last of a great generation of Caister characters - modest men, always ready for a yarn, and thinking little of the matter-of-fact bravery that saw them launch in all weathers.

Caister lifeboat legend Billy Read

Billy Read aboard his last boat The Comet. - Credit: Philip Crowe

"He was like a magnet," said Dick Thurlow, a former coxswain.

"If he was sat on a bench you had to stop and have a yarn. He was as dry as they come.

"We used to give him grief when we were youngsters, although we were never nasty - devilish was the word.

"He was a proper character - and to us, a legend."

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Mr Read was born in Beach Road, one of six children to William Benjamin Read, a maritime engineer,  and Mary-Anne Read.

After leaving school he worked as an apprentice with Lacon's Brewery cleaning the pumps.

He then went into drifting aboard the Rose Bay and joined the lifeboat crew under coxswain Jack Plummer, of Plummers dentists.

A spell in the Merchant Navy saw him working mostly in UK waters before returning to Caister where he had a fish and chip shop in Tan Lane.

People would queue round the block in those days, Mr Thurlow said, while he and his mates would cause havoc loosening the salt shaker tops and generally larking about - japes that would often result in him feeling the toe of Billy's boot.

After some 20 years frying fish he went back to fishing full time aboard Sarah, later cast as the Lydia Eva's lifeboat when she became a floating museum.

Things took a tragic turn in 1991 when his brother Benny, the then coxswain, was killed after a maroon misfired and hit him in the chest one sunny September day. The alert turned out to be a false alarm.

Mr Read was offered coxswain but turned it down eventually agreeing to be second in command behind Mr Thurlow.

Mr Thurlow said his knowledge and skill were invaluable on many missions and cited an incident in December 1993 when Mr Read was behind the wheel off the Dutch coast for some six hours amid towering waves - a feat for which they earned official recognition.

Billy Read and Caister lifeboat crew

Billy Read and the Caister crew after being escorted back from Dutch waters by HMS Nottingham in 1993. - Credit: Dick Thurlow

On that occasion the lifeboat had launched to reports of a fisherman washed overboard on a Dutch boat.

His body was trawled up sometime later with a wartime bomb.

Mr Read was one of the founder members of the Caister Independent Lifeboat after the RNLI pulled the plug in 1969.

He and a group of other fishermen each put in £50 and had another lifesaving boat in the shed almost immediately after the national charity's one was taken away.

Mr Thurlow said Mr Read was a very private man who was never one to put himself forward.

Although "straight talking" he never looked for confrontation but would always stand his ground.

He never married but had plenty of family around him including his sister Margaret and nieces and nephews who still lived nearby.

Mr Thurlow added that he enjoyed his life, especially his trips to the pub for a mardle with his mates, and as a younger man "didn't mind a rumble on a Saturday night" stressing they would all be friends shaking hands over a pint the next day.

He enjoyed growing vegetables and his chickens and still met up at the social club on a Friday night up until the second lockdown in November.

His nephew Philip Crowe said his uncle had suffered with ill health for some time.

On the day he died, March 23, he had been chatting as usual in the morning but had not awoken from his afternoon nap.

He said he was "a lovely uncle" and "kind and generous."

He leaves his sister Valerie and her family in America, his sister Margaret in Caister, and numerous nieces and nephews.

His funeral service on April 14 will see the Caister crew mount a guard of honour. The cortege will go past his house and offer him a last look at the sea and boathouse.

Mr Thurlow said it was sad because he deserved so much more in terms of a send-off as everyone knew him and he had so many friends.