22 July 2011

For those in peril on the sea

Yesterday I was involved in the funeral of Don, who had been Merchant Navy man during the war. The service was a superb tribute to him and to all his comrades who worked to keep Britain's supply lines open despite the prowling U-Boats. The Sheringham Shantymen (several of whom had RNLI pagers on their belts) gave wonderfully moving renditions of a couple of traditional farewell sea shanties, and we sang 'the Naval hymn', from which the title of this post is taken.

Today was my day off, and following an afternoon of DIY labour in my father-in-law's house, we took a stroll along the sea front in the early evening. As we got to the sea front, I noticed that the sea was looking a little rough - too rough for swimming - then I saw three people in the water very close to one of the groynes. We soon realised one of the three was an RNLI lifeguard, who was doing his best to prevent the two teenagers from meeting a gruesome end. We watched as the lifeguard successfully got them round the groyne and onto the beach. At that point, the RNLI lifeboat, which had just been scrambled, roared onto the scene about a minute too late to offer assistance.

The lifeguard had rocketed along the seafront on his bike after getting the call. He'd gone straight into the water, despite the crashing waves, the strong currents and the jagged rocks. When he came out, he was clearly exhausted, but his first thought was to assess his patients and tend to their needs. If he hadn't been so quick to react, I think there would have been some significant injuries, and possibly deaths.

Two striking reminders in as many days of the importance of those whose calling is to protect people around our coasts. Don's favourite poem was read at the funeral yesterday, and it spoke of the unsung heroes of the merchant navy. I have long thought of the RNLI as contemporary unsung heroes, and that they should be state funded; what I witnessed today confirmed this for me.

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