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Courage and sacrifice remembered in Green Lily commemorations on Shetland

Lifeboats News Release

Volunteers from the RNLI’s lifeboat station in Lerwick, Shetland have arranged commemorative services to remember the dramatic rescue of 15 crew from the Green Lily cargo vessel and to remember the tragic loss of UK Coastguard search and rescue winchman Bill Deacon.

Sunday 19 November 2017 marks 20 years since the Green Lily cargo vessel became distressed before sinking in a force 11 storm and 12 metre high seas off the coast of Lerwick at Bressay.

To mark the anniversary, RNLI volunteers at Lerwick Lifeboat Station have organised a wreath laying at the site of the Green Lily’s grounding. The event will remember the heroic acts of bravery that took place to rescue the ship’s crew and will also pay respects to Bill Deacon, the UK Coastguard winchman who lost his life moments after saving the life of the last crew member on the Green Lily’s deck.

The anniversary will also be marked by a service of remembrance in Lerwick Museum conducted by the Fisherman’s Mission Chaplain, Senior Superintendent Aubrey Jamieson, and a two week exhibition in the same venue running from 14 – 25 November.

The Green Lily rescue is the last time an RNLI Gold Medal was awarded. The medal was received by Lerwick RNLI Coxswain Hewitt Clark, one of the most decorated lifeboat crew members in history, in recognition of his heroism, leadership and incredible seamanship. Due to Hewitt’s skill in handling the lifeboat, Michael and Jane Vernon, he and his crew were able to pull five crew to safety from the deck of the Green Lily in violent seas. Speaking about the rescue at the time, the former Secretary of the Lerwick Lifeboat, Magnus Shearer said:

‘All rescue services that day were truly outstanding. When Hewitt was taking the lifeboat alongside the vessel if anything had gone wrong at any point I feel sure we would have lost the lifeboat and very possibly all the crew. There was absolutely no margin for error. I’m very proud of Hewitt and very proud of our crew and I think they’re a tremendous credit to the RNLI and everything it stands for.’

An eye-witness account, by journalist Jonathan Wills, recalls the fierce conditions and bravery of lost winchman Bill Deacon:

‘The winchman was a hero. The conditions were terrifying, particularly after the ship hit the rocks. But he stayed on board until he’d made sure everyone else was safe. He really did give his life for those crewmen.’

The dramatic rescue is one of the most memorable in Shetland’s modern history and the two week exhibition in Lerwick Museum is expected to attract many locals who will remember the events unfolding. A full report of the rescue and awards made can be found attached with this release or in the RNLI news centre.

RNLI media contacts

Gemma McDonald, RNLI Regional Media Officer for Scotland, 01738 642956, 07826 900639,

Henry Weaver, RNLI Regional Media Manager for Scotland, 01738 642986, 07771 943026,

RNLI Press Office , 01202 336789

Volunteers from the Lerwick lifeboat come to the aid of the Green Lily 19 November 1997


Volunteers from the Lerwick lifeboat come to the aid of the Green Lily 19 November 1997
Lerwick lifeboat in Lerwick harbour


Lerwick lifeboat in Lerwick harbour
The Green Lily off Bressay, Shetland November 1997


The Green Lily off Bressay, Shetland November 1997
Gold Medal Coxswain Hewitt Clark portrait by Nigel Millard

Nigel Millard

Gold Medal Coxswain Hewitt Clark portrait by Nigel Millard
The RNLI lifeboat volunteer crew from the Green Lily rescue

RNLI/Gemma McDonald

The RNLI lifeboat volunteer crew from the Green Lily rescue with their medals

Key facts about the RNLI

The Royal National Lifeboat Institution is the charity that saves lives at sea. Our volunteers provide a 24-hour search and rescue service in the United Kingdom and Ireland from 238 lifeboat stations, including four along the River Thames and inland lifeboat stations at Loch Ness, Lough Derg, Enniskillen, Carrybridge and Lough Ree. Additionally the RNLI has more than 1,000 lifeguards on over 240 beaches around the UK and operates a specialist flood rescue team, which can respond anywhere across the UK and Ireland when inland flooding puts lives at risk.

The RNLI relies on public donations and legacies to maintain its rescue service. As a charity it is separate from, but works alongside, government-controlled and funded coastguard services. Since the RNLI was founded in 1824 our lifeboat crews and lifeguards have saved at least 140,000 lives. Volunteers make up 95% of the charity, including 4,600 volunteer lifeboat crew members and 3,000 volunteer shore crew. Additionally, tens of thousands of other dedicated volunteers raise funds and awareness, give safety advice, and help in our museums, shops and offices.

Learn more about the RNLI

For more information please visit the RNLI website or Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. News releases, videos and photos are available on the News Centre.

Contacting the RNLI - public enquiries

Members of the public may contact the RNLI on 0300 300 9990 or by email.


The RNLI is a charity registered in England and Wales (209603) and Scotland (SC037736). Charity number 20003326 in the Republic of Ireland