Jack celebrates 60 years with Fraserburgh RNLI
Jack Provan, former chairman of Fraserburgh Lifeboat Committee celebrates 60 years involvement with the RNLI this year
When Jack first joined the RNLI the Fraserburgh Lifeboat was the Duchess of Kent which had replaced the previous lifeboat the John and Charles Kennedy 5 years earlier in 1954.
The John and Charles Kennedy had capsized with the loss of six of her seven crew on 9 February 1953.
‘I had no previous experience with the RNLI until I came to Fraserburgh as a local Customs and Excise Officer in August 1959’ said Jack.
‘A few weeks after arriving here the harbour master, Captain R T Duthie, asked me to attend a meeting in the harbour office. I assumed it was to discuss harbour business, but when I arrived he told me that it was a Lifeboat Committee meeting and that I had now joined. I suppose you could say I had been conscripted, and I’ve been here ever since’.
Jack received the Bar to the Gold Badge of the Scottish Lifeboat Council in June 2011, 52 years after first joining the RNLI in Fraserburgh in 1959.
The Harbour master Captain Duthie was also the Honorary Secretary of the Lifeboat from 1948 to 1967.
‘He was in fact the Launch Authority, his position would now be called the Lifeboat Operations Manager, which in recent years has been filled by Charlie Duthie, Walter Ironside, Victor Sutherland senior and Hamish Partridge’.
On many occasions over the years Jack has witnessed many violent storms, tragedies and acts of outstanding courage.
Jack had only been with the RNLI a few weeks when the Fraserburgh Lifeboat the Duchess of Kent was involved in a Bronze Medal Service with a scratch crew.
‘I clearly remember the violent storm on 27 October 1959 when two yawls the Easter Morn and the Morning Star were overwhelmed in Fraserburgh Bay and five fishermen were lost.
‘I watched from the harbour office as the lifeboat the Duchess of Kent and a fishing boat stood by the yawl Ocean Swell outside the North Breakwater for several hours, unable to enter the harbour, before heading for Peterhead.
‘Suddenly, off Rattray Head, the yawl rolled over beam ends, came upright again and acting Coxswain Alex Duthie took the lifeboat alongside to skilfully rescue the two crewmen.’
Alex Duthie and Fred Kirkness were awarded RNLI Bronze Medals and the crew were awarded Bronze Medal Service Certificates.
Just over ten years after this Bronze Medal Service, tragedy struck when the third Fraserburgh Lifeboat Disaster occurred on 21 January 1970. The Duchess of Kent Lifeboat capsized while on service and five of her six crew, including Fred Kirkness were lost.
Coxswain John Stephen, mechanic Fred Kirkness, William Hadden, James Buchan and James R S Buchan were all lost that day, the only survivor being John Jackson Buchan. The formal investigation stated that ‘No vessel can be guaranteed to survive all possible sea conditions and the court emphasised that lifeboat operations are, and always will be, extremely hazardous’.
We were close friends of Fred Kirkness, his wife, Maise and his son Colin, who became a respected eye surgeon. They came from Rousay in Orkney. William Hadden worked with me as a patrolman in Customs and Excise and we also knew the Coxswain John Stephen who was the assistant Harbour Master.
It was the saddest time of my 60 years involvement with Fraserburgh Lifeboat.
There was a lot of controversy over the provision of a replacement lifeboat which was understandable after three disasters and many locals maintained a 48ft lifeboat was too small to cope with the extreme conditions experienced in the North Sea and Moray Firth.
Six members of the committee resigned in 1972 but Jack was determined that a new lifeboat should be allocated to Fraserburgh and became chairman in 1973.
The issue was finally resolved after two public meetings in June 1977 and January 1978 and the Solent class 48ft six inch relief boat The Royal British Legion arrived in June 1978. Training commenced under Coxswain John Sutherland and Inspector Les Vipond.
Fraserburgh Lifeboat Station once again became operational on the 28th of April 1979 and Jack remembered the first rescue less than two months later.
He said the first rescue was on 3 June 1979, eight crew and a dog were brought ashore in dense fog from the cargo vessel Antonio which had ran aground 100 yards off the shore on the coast road to Sandhaven.
Jack wasn’t the only family member to be involved in work with the RNLI, as his wife Audrey had immersed herself in raising funds for the lifeboat as a member of the ladies guild.
Audrey had joined the Ladies Lifeboat Guild in 1969 and was chairperson from 1972 to 1990. In the period when Fraserburgh had no lifeboat after January 1970 the ladies raised between £2,000 and £3,000 every year and received an Vellum of Appreciation in 1977 for their efforts.
The Ladies Guild was formed in 1937 and have been raising money in Fraserburgh for the past 82 years, they are now called the Fund Raisers, giving their wholehearted support to those directly involved in saving lives at sea.
The first RNLI Lifeboat arrived in Scotland in 1858 and was stationed here in Fraserburgh. It was a gift from Mr William McKerrell of Bath, and was named Havelock after a famous general.
Jack recalls the celebrations in 2008 which marked the 150th Anniversary of Fraserburgh becoming the first RNLI station in Scotland when he accepted a commemorative vellum from the Chairman of the RNLI, his grace the Duke of Atholl.
In February 1984 a civic appeal was launched in Edinburgh to raise £430,000 for a new lifeboat for Fraserburgh which was to be called the City of Edinburgh and would be the first Tyne Class lifeboat in Scotland.
The Lord Provost of Edinburgh at the time was Longside born the Right Honourable Tom Morgan CBE.
‘We raised over £80,000 locally and our fundraising included £2,500 from a sponsored walk from Inverness to Fraserburgh by Brian Riddoch a local fisherman and £1,125 from a cycle run from Edinburgh by television presenter Jimmie Spankie’ said Jack. ‘In less than 18 months we raised £495,000 which was £65,000 more than the original target of £430,000.’
The new City of Edinburgh lifeboat arrived on 23 of November 1985. The naming ceremony and dedication followed on the 26th of June 1986 when HRH the Duke of Kent, President of the RNLI, named the lifeboat.
The City of Edinburgh was involved in several notable rescues.
On the 13 January 1989, eight crew members of the fishing vessel Mystic were rescued in a Force Nine gale. A Vellum was awarded to Coxswain Albert Sutherland and his crew received Vellum Service certificates.
On 16 February 1997, a helicopter was unable to lower a salvage pump onto the Hopecrest 50 miles North East of Fraserburgh. The lifeboat managed to transfer a pump across in horrendous conditions and for this Coxswain Albert Sutherland received a Bronze Medal for his outstanding seamanship, great courage and fine leadership. Medal Service certificates were also presented to all members of the Fraserburgh Lifeboat Crew.
After 30 years in the role of Chairman of Fraserburgh Lifeboat Management Committee Jack handed over the reins to the late Mr Ian Rankin BEM, ex-rector of Fraserburgh Academy who held the post until his death in early 2018.
Other highlights of Jack’s 60 year association with Fraserburgh Lifeboat include introducing the Queen and Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh to the Fraserburgh Lifeboat crew on 22 June 1992 during a Royal Visit.
The naming of our present Trent class lifeboat the Willie and May Gall on 7 September 2002 was another highlight. It was officially named by Mrs Patrick Argo, whose husband Richard is the nephew of the late Mrs May Gall who bequeathed money from her estate for the lifeboat. Willie and May Gall lived in Newburgh and Mr and Mrs Argo live in Ellon. Around 400 people attended the naming ceremony at the Provost Anderson Jetty.
The Lifeboat Station was opened by Miss Maureen Ritchie, a relative of Miss Lorna Beatrice Ritchie whose generous legacy to the RNLI enabled the new state of the art facilities to be built. It is one of the finest examples of a modern lifeboat station and the crew are very proud of it.
Jack said: ‘I have been particularly pleased to have been involved with the Fraserburgh Memorial Lifeboat Statue which was unveiled by Lady Saltoun on 21 August 2010 to the 13 crew who have lost their lives trying to save others in three lifeboat disasters in 1919, 1953 and 1970’.
James Gray of Gray and Adams had written to the station suggesting a memorial statue be erected outside the lifeboat station and offering a four figure sum as a donation towards the commissioning of one.
‘I knew that Mr Ian Scott, a sculptor, who lives in North Ronaldsay, Orkney had designed the Longhope Memorial and my wife informed me that Ian stayed with her grandparents when he was a pupil at Kirkwall grammar school. I visited him in June 2009 and he agreed to design our memorial. Ian became a close friend and produced what everyone agrees is a fitting tribute to the thirteen local men who lost their lives in the three disaster’
We were very pleased just last year when James Gray accepted the role of Chairman of the Lifeboat Management Committee which had been left vacant after the death of Mr Ian Rankin.
It’s a role that Jack Provan had filled with distinction for 30 years and which included guiding us through some of the most turbulent and difficult years in the history of Fraserburgh Lifeboat.
Jack will be 89 in November and as he begins his seventh decade with Fraserburgh Lifeboat he is going to be kept busy in the next few months. The memorial service which will commemorate the 50th anniversary of the 1970 Fraserburgh Lifeboat Disaster will be taking place in January 2020 and Jack, as ever, is going to be heavily involved
The memorial service to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the 1970 Fraserburgh Lifeboat Disaster will take place on Sunday 19 January 2020 at 2pm in the Old Parish Church at 2pm.
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 over 238 lifeboat stations in the UK and Ireland and, in a normal year, 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.