RNLI Rye Harbour pays tribute to a ‘true gentleman’

Lifeboats News Release

Alan Haffenden was born in Pains Cottage, Rye Harbour on 19 September 1937. He was the fourth child of six and grew up in the Harbour: a true ’Harbour Duck’. He sadly passed away on August 12 2019.

Family archives

He was always known for being so debonair

At eighteen he joined the Navy and remained in the service for seven years, gaining a great deal of maritime experience. He married Joan in 1957 and they had three children: Lorraine, Gary and Mark.

In June 1966 Rye Harbour once again became fully operational after the closure of the station in 1928 following the Mary Stanford disaster. A representative from the RNLI, Commander Cairns, came to the village and worked closely with Alan Haffenden, Roy Gawn and Ron Caister to set up a new lifeboat station. A ‘D’ class lifeboat was delivered and trials began.

The villagers were pleased that the RNLI was back in the village. It was a small fishing community and everyone looked out for each other. Local families came together to man the boat including Alan Haffenden, his brother-in-law Richard Tollett, Terry Broocks, the three Caister brothers, Ron, Teddy and Dave, the Robus family and later Alan's sons became involved. The village was united in making this a success.

Alan had returned to the village in 1964 after his time in the Navy and this experience meant that he was in a strong position to take up the RNLI mantle. The first Honorary Secretary, now known as the LOM (Lifeboat Operations Manager) was Dave Osborne. When the maroon went off Alan's mum would run to the boathouse to help launch the boat. Alan was on the crew for twenty-one years and then became a DLA (Deputy Launching Authority) and spent much of his time training new crew, including Trevor Bryant who recalls: ’One of the nicest blokes I ever met’

Richard Tollett had this to say. ‘I met Alan in 1967 when I started courting his sister Ann. When Ann and I got engaged I was promptly asked if I would like to join the lifeboat crew. I served the RNLI for nearly fifty years. He always instilled me with a lot of confidence and his calm and precise manner. He was also very good fun to be with. Alan was the Helm on what can only be described as the worst ever weather that the ‘D’ Class launched into. A local yachtsman was drowned when he was washed overboard entering the Harbour. The lifeboat was swamped and filled with water by a large wave as it attempted to come alongside the yacht. The lifeboat was washed ashore on Camber and all the crew were safe.’

Alan had time for everyone and would stop and chat as he took his dog for a walk often making people laugh. He made newcomers to the village feel welcome.

Paul Bolton, LOM at Rye Harbour, a neighbour and a friend remembered, ‘Alan gave so much to Rye Harbour RNLI and we owe him a debt of gratitude. His professionalism and willingness to train new recruits to the highest of standards ensured that the lifeboat station flourished. He will be sorely missed.’

'In his life he was loved by all who knew him: in death he will still be loved. No-one will fill his shoes in the village. There are many of us who will miss seeing him around, talking to him and laughing with him. And even more we will miss who we were when we were with him,’ commented KT Bruce, Press Officer for the lifeboat station.

Downey family archives

Early days in the Rye Harbour Lifeboat station with Alan, Keith and Terry Broocks

Claire Sutherland

Alan Haffenden on the Nature Reserve

Sheila Caister

Alan Haffenden, 'Turps' his brother and Mick Caister

family archives

Alan with his sons at the boathouse at Rye Harbour

family archives

Alan Haffenden with his family: Joan his wife and children.

Key facts about the RNLI

The RNLI charity saves lives at sea. Its volunteers provide a 24-hour search and rescue service around the United Kingdom and Republic of Ireland coasts. The RNLI operates 238 lifeboat stations in the UK and Ireland and more than 240 lifeguard units on beaches around the UK and Channel Islands. The RNLI is independent of Coastguard and government and depends on voluntary donations and legacies to maintain its rescue service. Since the RNLI was founded in 1824, its lifeboat crews and lifeguards have saved over 142,700 lives.

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