RNLI Museum Volunteer Pete Thomson MBE

Pete Thomson MBE is the Curator of Whitby Lifeboat Museum, where he looks after the exhibits, tours the country with the William Riley lifeboat and shares our rich history with the public. He’s the holder of an RNLI Bronze Medal for Gallantry and has been volunteering with us for over half a century.
I love still being able to share stories about the rescues we made and make.

Who introduced you to the RNLI?

My father was the Honorary Secretary - now Lifeboat Operations Manager - from 1953 to 1974 and, growing up in the fishing town of Whitby, I’ve been aware of the RNLI my whole life.

How do you usually spend your days?

I used to work in the museum full time, but now I spend a lot of time touring the country with the William Riley – the old lifeboat used in the Rohilla disaster. She’s a beautiful boat which was lovingly restored by a team of us.

How do you get involved with the RNLI?

When I first got back to Whitby from the Army I started helping my father with odd jobs at the station. I’ve done great big paintings and model replicas of the Rohilla disaster. Then in ‘66 I joined the crew of the first inshore lifeboat. In ’74, when the Waveney class came in, I worked my way up to Coxswain. Now I spend my time looking after the exhibits in the museum and touring the country with the William Riley.

What have you been able to bring to the role?

My father used to buy us (himself really!) train set pieces for Christmas when we were kids. It wasn’t the trains I was interested in so much as the model making. I loved building farms and castles and dockyards around the track. This passion has been very useful with the work I’ve been doing on museum exhibits through the years.

What’s your favourite thing about the RNLI?

I have a complete obsession with the Rohilla story. I feel such admiration for the bravery of the crews. This feeling has stayed with me through the years. I’ve been there so I know what they’ve been through.

What’s your most memorable moment during your time with the RNLI?

It would have to be receiving my MBE at the Palace with the Queen. That does make you feel humble and proud at the same time. Now I think about some of the rescues we made with the older technology, I think I must have been quite stupid really! It was all so exciting at the time.

I heard you were awarded a Bronze Medal for Gallantry in ’88. Can you tell me about what happened that day?

I was Coxswain of the Waveney at the time. Whitby is one of the most dangerous harbours to get in and out of. It faces due north and has nothing between it. This particular day, a couple of doctors were heading out to Scarborough in a yacht in rough northerly weather. They got rolled by the seas and drifted into Whitby rocks. The water there is only 6-8ft deep and it took us a couple of tries to get in to them. When we could finally get close enough without crushing them, they were quickly dragged aboard before we were spit out the other side by the seas.

How does it feel to be a part of the RNLI family? What does it mean to you?

I feel privileged to have been given the opportunity to become Coxswain. Especially in Whitby, which is a busy and high-profile station.

I love still being able to share stories about the rescues we made and make. I feel lucky to be able to continue passing it on.