Search

Tales of the Totie Beavers rescues

PUBLISHED: 15:24 15 October 2009 | UPDATED: 15:18 03 July 2010

Gorleston Inshore lifeboatman Desmond Mallion clutches the scared muntjak deer rescued from the river

Gorleston Inshore lifeboatman Desmond Mallion clutches the scared muntjak deer rescued from the river

TALES of the Unexpected, the title of that long-running Anglia Television series, could well be used to name programmes about the emergency services. Recently, I recorded here the exploits of Bertie (Totie) Beavers, the Gorleston lifeboat coxswain who launched to search for a fighter pilot down in the sea after a mid-air collision and returned to port with an unprecedented casualty on the end of his tow rope - an American amphibious Albatross aircraft that got into difficulties during that 1952 rescue mission.

TALES of the Unexpected, the title of that long-running Anglia Television series, could well be used to name programmes about the emergency services. Recently, I recorded here the exploits of Bertie (Totie) Beavers, the Gorleston lifeboat coxswain who launched to search for a fighter pilot down in the sea after a mid-air collision and returned to port with an unprecedented casualty on the end of his tow rope - an American amphibious Albatross aircraft that got into difficulties during that 1952 rescue mission.

Eighteen years earlier, Mr Beavers had jumped into the sea to save 13-year-old James Bonney who was in danger of drowning near the spur breakwater in Gorleston.

Now comes another out-of-the-ordinary episode in the annals of the Totie Beavers family: one of his grandsons, also a Gorleston lifeboatman, has participated in the rescue of...a deer!

Desmond Mallion, of Belton, was at the boathouse in July when people drew his attention to onlookers gathering on the riverside opposite the King William IV public house to watch a muntjak in the Yare. “It came from upriver and was swimming down, bouncing off the walls,” he tells me. “It had turned Brush Bend and started to swim towards the open sea but miraculously turned round and started going back upriver. “

Because there was a risk that would-be rescuers might get into difficulties clambering down to try to save it, 46-year-old Mr Mallion rang the coastguards who formally alerted the inshore lifeboat to go to the rescue.

“We spent about 20 minutes trying to catch it,” he recalls. “Every time we got near, it swam off - they're quite good swimmers, these deer - and it then kept trying to climb up on to the quay, but in the end we managed to lasso it and made a grab and a lunge to get it into the ILB and took it back to the lifeboat shed.

“We left it wrapped in a blanket until the RSPCA came to fetch it.”

Where the scared little creature came from, how far it had come down-river, and where the RSPCA released it, remained a puzzle. But it survived, even if unable to tell the tale.

Seldom do the crews of the two lifeboats stationed on the Gorleston riverside have to deal with casualties so close to their headquarters. But one I remember well also happened in high summer and involved the Eastern Princess, the former Royal Navy launch that for years worked as a Yarmouth pleasure tripper, ferrying passengers from South Quay to view Scroby sands.

In bright sunshine, she embarked on a routine cruise with 200 passengers one evening in July 1963, the men, women and children holidaymakers in their light summer clothing on board looking forward to catching sight of the seal colonies on the sandbank. But on their way back, they were passing the South Denes power station nearing the harbour's mouth when an unexpected bank of dense fog enveloped the Eastern Princess, which carried no radar.

Visibility was cut to nil. And the pleasure cruise was transformed into a maritime adventure.

Her master, experienced drifter and trawler skipper Ernest Bullock, saw the fog bank rolling in and made full-speed in a bid to reach the safety of the port ahead of it, but failed by only a short distance. The 107ft Eastern Princess, by then inching her way in the chill murk, came across the small fishing boat I'll Try, whose three-man crew - Richard Saunders and John Baker, of Gorleston, and Brian Bowgen, of Burgh Castle - sought to guide her to safety, but the two vessels lost one another.

Mr Bullock told the Mercury: “We cruised about outside for about an hour, searching for the piers, then we managed to find them and came in, with visibility down to nothing. We turned the bend, and touched the beach.”

That was the Spending Beach, on the other side of the Yare to the lifeboat station. The alarm was raised, and the Gorleston lifeboat Louise Stephens was launched to make the 30-second crossing to the grounded pleasure craft. Cox'n George Mobbs commented: 's the first time I've rescued anyone from a boat actually in the harbour! We took off 117 in three trips.”

I believe Corporation buses were enlisted to collect the passengers after their adventure and return them to Yarmouth. The Eastern Princess, which had run aground only gently, was refloated on the next day's high tide and was soon back in service.

Skipper Bullock was praised for succeeding in probing through the fog to find the twin piers and the safety of the harbour with no casualties or damage. The Eastern Princess continued her short sea excursions from Yarmouth until 1968 when she changed to Broadland trips; she was then sold to London owners, but her registration was cancelled in 1972 upon her sale to Greece.

Whether or not she is still afloat, and where, I know not.

My own briefest lifesaving mission was in the 1970s. As the weekend duty reporter, I had spent the morning in my Yarmouth office one summer Sunday and was driving home along the quay to lunch at home in Gorleston. On approaching the lifeboat station, the twin maroons were fired to summon the crew to action stations.

Wearing my figurative twin hats as reporter and member of the lifeboat station management committee, I stopped to inquire about the emergency. In fact, I was there so briskly that only one member had so far arrived and, because every moment was vital, I agreed to help man the inflatable lifeboat that had been called to help a girl swimmer off the beach near the power station.

On went my life-jacket, off sped the ILB as I prepared for my deed of lifesaving and perhaps even an act of heroism and public adulation. Those thoughts were short-lived, for we had gone no more than 100 yards towards the harbour's mouth when a radio call came in from the coastguards to abort the mission - happily, the young bather had safely reached the beach.

The ILB U-turned and went back to its base. I carried on home for lunch. The newspaper report of the emergency made barely a paragraph.

Become a supporter

This newspaper has been a central part of community life for many years, through good times and bad. Coronavirus is one of the greatest challenges our community has ever faced, but if we all play our part we will defeat it. We're here to serve as your advocate and trusted source of local information.

In these testing times, your support is more important than ever. Thank you.

Most Read

Most Read

Latest from the Great Yarmouth Mercury