1947: Henry Blogg retires
In 1947, at the age of 71, RNLI legend Henry Blogg drew 53 years of service as a lifeboat crewmember to a close.
Over the course of his time with the RNLI, Henry was awarded three Gold Medals and four Silver Medals for Gallantry - making him the most decorated volunteer in RNLI history. And with the help of his brave crew at Cromer, he was responsible for saving over 873 lives.
Henry joins the crew
At the age of 11, Henry left school – despite being top of his class – to help his stepfather, himself a second coxswain, in the family crab boat.
It was here that he learned how to use an oar, handle a sail and navigate tides, currents, rocks and shoals – although, he never learnt to swim. It was also here that he learnt, firsthand, the dark side to Cromer's scenic coastline - the unpredictably powerful tides, winds, currents and rock-hard sands that have claimed thousands of lives.
As soon as he turned 18, he joined the Cromer lifeboat crew, climbing aboard the Benjamin Bond-Cabbell for his first rescue to go to the aid of the Fair City of Gloucester.
In 1902, after his stepfather reluctantly retired due to poor health, Henry was voted as Second Coxswain by the crew after only 8 years of service.
Seven years later, in November 1909, Henry was unanimously elected by the crew as Coxswain, having acted as temporary Coxswain since the beginning of that year.
The First Gold Medal
The first of Henry's many medal-winning rescues took place in 1917, when he and his crew launched four times over the course of 14 hours in a terrible storm.
Aboard Cromer’s lifeboat the Louisa Heartwell, Henry and the crew battled 50mph winds to get to the aid of 22 crew stranded aboard the Greek vessel, Pyrin.
The lifeboat crew, who had an average age of over 50 (with two members over 70), had to rely on 14 oars, two sails and the raw strength of the crew to navigate the heavy seas.
Just as they arrived back on shore, triumphant and exhausted, they were told of the Swedish ship Fernabo, which had been blown in half by an enemy mine.
Rowing 350m each way – three times – Henry and his crew rescued all of the sailors onboard. In return, he was awarded his first Gold Medal for his ‘remarkable personality’ and ‘admirable leadership’ demonstrated during the rescue. His crew were awarded Bronze Medals and also praised for their 'courage and dogged tenacity'.
Six more medals
Gold Medal, 1927
On 22 November 1927, in extremely perilous circumstances, Henry rescued 15 crew from the Dutch tanker SS Georgia, which had broken in two on Haisborough Sands. For 28 hours, the lifeboat crew were assisting the tanker’s crew, earning Henry his second Gold Medal.
Silver Medal, 1932
From 14–16 October 1932, Henry and his crew rescued 29 crew from the Monte Nevoso, an Italian vessel stranded on Haisborough Sands.
The lifeboat made numerous launches to the vessel, while the Monte Nevoso’s captain and three other crew refused to leave the ship.
The four men eventually left in their own motor boat when the vessel broke up and the lifeboat returned home, some 52 hours after the original launch.
Henry received his first RNLI Silver Medal, a Silver Medal and a diploma from the Italian Government and a Canine Defence League medal for saving the life of a Tyrolean sheepdog that had been on the ship.
Henry liked dogs, and the captain gave him this one, which he named Monte. After that, Monte was never seen more than a couple of feet from Henry’s side.
Silver Medal, 1933
On 13 December 1933, Henry and his crew were called out to the 65-tonne barge Sepoy. Henry described this as the worst journey in his then 24 years as Coxswain.
Henry had made several attempts to go alongside the barge but it was impossible to hold the lifeboat in position because of the wind and tide. He then ran the lifeboat’s bow onto the deck of the Sepoy. One of the casualties was seized by the crew and, when Henry repeated the manoeuvre, the other man was rescued.
Silver Medal, 1939
On 9 October 1939, Henry took part in the rescue of the 29 crew of the Greek-registered vessel SS Mount Ida, which was wrecked on the Ower Bank in a gale with very heavy seas. In return, the crew were rewarded with the first lifeboat medal of the Second World War.
Gold Medal, 1941
On the night of 5 August 1941, in gale force winds and heavy breaking seas, six vessels in a southbound convoy were wrecked on Haisborough Sands. The following morning the two Cromer lifeboats, along with the Sheringham and Gorleston lifeboats, were launched and 88 men were saved.
Silver Medal, 1941
On 26 October of the same year, the SS English Trader of London ran aground on a sandbank on the other side of Haisborough Sands.
A full gale was blowing with a very heavy sea. After gallant efforts that afternoon, 44 of the crew were rescued by Henry and his crew the following morning
An historic era draws to a close
In March 1946, the committee of the Cromer Branch of the RNLI discussed the question of Henry’s retirement.
Although he was 70 years old, 10 years over the retiring age, Henry felt he would like to continue for another year. In view of his unrivalled record of service to humanity it was agreed that he should do so.
It was in 1947, therefore, that he took off his lifejacket marked ‘Cox’ for the last time, after 53 years of service as a volunteer in the RNLI.