Generations of lifesavers at Ramsgate

Coxswain Ian Cannon’s great great uncle Alf went to Dunkirk with the Ramsgate lifeboat crew. Ian’s daughter Becky is now part of the crew too.
Ramsgate Coxswain Ian Cannon and his daughter Becky

Photo: RNLI/Jack Lowe

Ramsgate Coxswain Ian Cannon and his daughter Becky

Becky Cannon has dreamed of being on the lifeboat crew at Ramsgate since she was 7 years old. She remembers watching her dad (Ian Cannon, Ramsgate Coxswain) go out on calls and wanted to follow in his footsteps. As soon as she was 17 in April 2017, she joined the crew and has ambition: ‘To be a helm would be nice, or a coxswain one day.’ 

Her father, Ian, joined at the earliest opportunity too, on his 17th birthday. The Ramsgate coxswain was inspired by his father, double Silver Medal awardee Coxswain Ron Cannon, and his grandfather before him: ‘As soon as we could we wanted to be part of the crew, part of our family history really. Becky’s been eager to join since a very young age – I’m proud, very, very proud.’

The family tradition goes back to Dunkirk and beyond. Ian’s great great uncle, Alf Moody, was second coxswain when the Ramsgate lifeboat went to Dunkirk. While the younger crew had been called up for military service, the experienced older seafarers stepped up. 

On 30 May 1940, Alf was on the crew that braved the bombs to rescue troops stuck on the beaches of Dunkirk.

Ian imagines what it was like for his Uncle Alf and the other volunteer crew on the Prudential, a Ramsgate class lifeboat: ‘She was a wooden boat, 48ft, single engine – not very powerful, with no real protection for the crew. There was no real shelter, no seats. They took her across the Channel for two nights. They must have been absolutely exhausted, soaked. There was nowhere to hide.’

Ramsgate were credited with taking 2,800 men off the beaches in under 48 hours.

Ramsgate Coxswain Ian Cannon in a timeless image made by The Lifeboat Station Project

Jack Lowe/The Lifeboat Station Project

Ramsgate Coxswain Ian Cannon in a timeless image made by The Lifeboat Station Project 

Ian himself went across the English Channel to commemorate Dunkirk: ‘It was amazing to see all the little boats, seeing where it all happened. It was quite choking to be honest. To save people, through minefields, bombing and shooting – they were brave.’

He says there’s one big difference for lifeboat crews today: ‘The crews that manned the Prudential in 1940 would have been seafarers, fishermen, but they certainly wouldn’t have had the training that we have these days. Now we’ve got a window cleaner, an estate agent. These days you need to be willing to learn.’ 

Ramsgate volunteer Lifeboat Press Officer and history buff John Ray thinks the lifeboat crew through the ages have much in common: ‘If you look back on old records and history of lifeboatmen way back to 1800s, and you still see underneath it’s the same sort of values. 

‘You could argue they were a lot tougher because they had open boats and poor equipment and they probably rowed the most of the way. But still the desire to help and rescue, plus the camaraderie was there then, and it’s still there now.’

There’s one thing that certainly hasn’t changed. All generations of lifeboat men and women need courage to save lives, as Ian says candidly: ‘Being brave comes with the job.’ His daughter Becky volunteers with courage too: ‘You can’t have a lot of fear. You have to get on with it. Keep going, no matter what it is.’

Aldeburgh Lifeboat Station’s Lucy Lavers, photographed by Bekens

Next story: Aldeburgh lifeboat Lucy Lavers was among the 19 lifeboats that joined the fleet of ‘little ships’ in Operation Dynamo and her story continues to this day.