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The man who made great saves

PUBLISHED: 15:55 09 July 2009 | UPDATED: 14:21 03 July 2010

TOP OF THE POPS? Henry Clay's Pops, for many years entertainers on the Gorleston riverside land named Pops Meadow

TOP OF THE POPS? Henry Clay's Pops, for many years entertainers on the Gorleston riverside land named Pops Meadow

THE words "hero" and "bravery" have been devalued in this 21st century. Instead of applying to acts of courage and even self-sacrifice, they are more often used in a sporting context: a super-rich footballer who leads his team to victory is dubbed "heroic", while a millionaire snooker player in a warm and comfortable environment takes on a "brave" pot.

THE words “hero” and “bravery” have been devalued in this 21st century. Instead of applying to acts of courage and even self-sacrifice, they are more often used in a sporting context: a super-rich footballer who leads his team to victory is dubbed “heroic”, while a millionaire snooker player in a warm and comfortable environment takes on a “brave” pot.

There could never be any dispute that a Yarmouthian who died in 1934 - three-quarters of a century ago - well deserved the descriptions of hero and brave. He was Robert William “Chickie” Drane, whose life-saving exploits earned him not only admiration and gratitude but official recognition.

It was his estimate that he had saved no fewer than 115 lives in 62 years, the last of them when he was 76. That was a four-year-old neighbour from Bessey's Buildings on North Quay, William Waters, who fell into the fast-flowing river near their home. Drane leapt fully-clothed into the 15ft-deep Bure and clutched the furiously-struggling lad, pulling him to the bank with the help of another man and applying artificial respiration.

When the mayor handed Drane an honorary certificate awarded by the Carnegie Hero Fund, he declared: “Such acts at your time of life should be a stimulus to younger men, and I hope that, when they are called upon to do such acts, they will remember what an old man of 76 did.” Acknowledging the tribute, Chickie said he hoped he would be there next time anybody fell overboard, for it was everybody's duty to try to save a life.

The list of acknowledgements to his deeds gives an indication of his role in extending their lives. When he died, at that same age, he held 12 silver and bronze medals, three clasps and nine vellum testimonials given by the Royal Humane Society for gallantry, among other awards.

Chickie was a shrimper who, as a young man, swam from Yarmouth to Lowestoft. After marrying a Newcastle woman, he migrated there, working as a waterman and fisherman on the Tyne, participating in many rescues, including those of the occupants of a capsized police boat. In the first world war he served in minesweepers, escaping injury when a mine exploded.

For 14 years he was a member of the Gorleston lifeboat crew engaged in similar life-saving pursuits but, of course, as a member of a well-organised and trained team rather than solo.

Gorleston lifeboat coxswain William Fleming retired after 12 years, taking the helm of the Mark Lane, J M Meiklam and Elizabeth Simpson and helping to save 1,188 lives.

He was honoured with the the Order of the British Empire in 1924 to help mark the centenary of the Royal National Lifeboat Institution. His successor as coxswain was

C A Johnson.

Another rescue involved pilot boat crewman Bertie Beavers and Sgt Frank Page - probably a policeman - who were swift to act when 13-year-old schoolboy James Bonney was swept by the tide around the spur breakwater at Gorleston. Mr Beavers flung a lifebelt to him and Sgt Page leapt, fully dressed, into the rough water to save his life.

More than 65,000 people visited the Wellington Pier during the summer, increasing receipts by more than £1,000. One of the attractions there was a scoreboard, sponsored by Johnnie Walker whisky, on which up-to-the-minute test match cricket scores were displayed, enjoyed by crowds lounging in deckchairs out in the sunny gardens. England were playing Australia, who regained the Ashes after the controversial bodyline bowling series of 1932-33.

Chappell's Singers Ring, a popular open-air entertainment venue on the Central Beach, was closed after more than half a century. Within the waist-high fence, summer holidaymakers and residents heard music and saw speciality acts and comedians

on a stage. Frank Gee and his Troubadours provided the shows for many years. The removal of the Singers Ring was to enable the construction of the Marina, the open-air amphitheatre that stood there until the present Marina Centre replaced it in 1981.

Another traditional entertainment came to an end with the last performance of Henry Clay's Pops on the Gorleston riverside land still known today as Pops Meadow. But an addition was the Little Theatre, which opened to stage repertory in the minor hall of the Royal Aquarium.

Several prominent residents of the borough died in 1934. One was Herbert Pertwee, managing secretary of the Sailors' Home, aged 72. The Pertwee family was associated with the establishment for much of the 20th century. Also, he was in the family business of Pertwee & Back, still trading as a car dealership and garage but in 1934 also operating as an iron foundry and marine engineer. He invented an ice crusher used in many London hotels.

Henry Manning Fellows, 76 when he died, was “an outstanding figure of the town's maritime history”. He was managing director of Fellows & Co, the Southtown shipyard still working in 2009 - albeit under a different name - and his obituary called him “one of the last of the old school of shipbuilders”.

Thomas Darby, another who died, had built up a blacksmith business for six decades, was a leading member of the RNLI and held a long-service medal from the breeches buoy life-saving apparatus brigade.

Justice of the Peace Harold Chamberlin, a senior partner in the solicitors firm of Chamberlin, Talbot and Bracey, died aged 77. For 33 years he was a borough councillor.

George Brewster, a leading figure at St George's Church, died, as did William Stacey, 77, a mast and block- maker in Southgates Road.

In Norwich, the death took place of Frederick Stuart, formerly a stalwart of St Nicholas's Parish Church and for many years dispenser with the Yarmouth medical practice of

doctors William and Henry Wyllys and Ley.

One Yarmouthian who did not die from accident, illness or old age was marine store dealer Horace Butcher who was murdered at his Middlegate Street home.

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