Christmas made possible for generations of one family thanks to historic rescue
A fact-finding missing to discover more about how his family were dramatically rescued off Pembrokeshire over 70 years ago, has left Charlie Perkins feeling eternally grateful to St Davids RNLI this Christmas.
As the RNLI releases new figures, which show the charity’s volunteer crews are much more likely to be called out over Christmas than they were 40 years ago, Charlie is backing the RNLI’s own call for help. Between 1979 – 1989, Welsh volunteers attended an average of four call outs over the Christmas period. During the last 10 years, the figure has risen by a dramatic 187 per cent, to an average of 11 lifeboat launches between 2009-2018.
RNLI is facing the Perfect Storm and is calling on the public for support to ensure volunteers crews can continue saving lives at sea.
Charlie, originally from Tenterden, Kent, now living and working in Hong Kong, recently visited St Davids RNLI Lifeboat Station to find out more about the 1946 rescue involving his father, uncle and grandfather, whose lives were saved after the Second World War. On scouring the service record boards at St Davids RNLI Lifeboat Station, he stumbled across details of five lives saved from the stricken vessel Forban and contemplated how his family would not be here today to celebrate Christmas had it not been for the brave crew.
Charlie contacted his uncle David Perkins, 83, who lives in Devon - the only surviving member of family saved that day. David was able to confirm details of the fateful day when the St Davids Lifeboat Swn y Mor dramatically saved five lives. David was only 10 years old, when he and his late brother Tim, then 12, travelled from Waterford to Wales with their father. Also aboard the vessel were two family friends.
‘It was just after the war and as a result of wartime shortages the Forban was not as well maintained as perhaps she should have been. We’d had to carry a loaded revolver in order to detonate any floating mines we’d encountered. On the crossing we had run into bad weather and had become dis-masted with the mast causing a large leak in the boat and destroying the tender that was the life raft as it came down.
‘Without a radio on board we were unable to contact help, so resorted to the old-fashioned distress signal of flying the ensign upside down. With waves crashing along the length of the boat, the weather deteriorating and the vessel sinking, my father tied myself and my brother to the mizzen mast. We really were in a lot of trouble and definitely are very lucky to have survived.’
Displaying their distress signal, they drifted past a lighthouse but unfortunately weren’t seen. Fortunately, a small tanker spotted the vessel and came to their assistance. The size of the tanker and poor weather meant that the tanker was unable to rescue them but was able to radio for help.
The St Davids lifeboat launched to their rescue, with the Forban sinking shortly after. They were brought back to St Justinian and given clothing from the Shipwrecked Mariners Society as David recalls was wearing just two jumpers and nothing else when they were rescued.
David, who today owns a 38ft yacht berthed in Falmouth, in Cornwall adds:
‘Being contacted by Charles really sparked something in me and made me think about how our entire family would not be here today had it not been for the lifeboat crew coming to our rescue. My wife Penny and I have four children and 13 grandchildren. Seeing and hearing of their plans for Christmas really made me think about how things could have been very different all those years ago and thanks to the St Davids crew we’re all here today looking forward to another family Christmas.’
The service return written by the launch authority regarding the 28 August 1946 rescue stated:
It was a great privilege to be present, to personally observe and be able to write a veritable report of this excellent service. During the 20 years I have been out on the boat on various services I have never seen such commendable skill as exhibited by the coxswain on this occasion meriting the highest distinction the Institution has in its power to confer, neither have I seen such individual praiseworthy efforts of the crew. Hundreds of onlookers assembled on the cliffs looked down in amazement on the thrilling scene.
Dai John, current Coxswain of St Davids RNLI Lifeboat, which is this year celebrating its 150th anniversary said:
‘Charlie didn’t know the name of the boat when he came over to see us and was keen to uncover out more about his past. It soon became apparent he was a descendant of one of the children rescued from the Forban. It was fascinating to look back at the rescue. David, his brother, father and the other couple on board were drenched and perished with the cold when the crew got to them. They really were lucky to have survived.
‘Lifeboating has changed so much in the 70-plus years since this rescue, technology has developed so much and today’s volunteers have the very best kit to do their jobs properly. The one thing that hasn’t changed is the courage and commitment of our crews who are still as able and willing to go to sea whatever the weather, whether that’s at Christmas or any other time of year.
‘The RNLI is however facing the Perfect Storm with more people drowning and a dip in funds, so anything people can do to support us this Christmas to help us continuing to save lives such as those of David and his family would be much appreciated.
To support the RNLI’s Perfect Storm appeal this Christmas, helping to ensure the charity’s brave volunteers can continue saving lives at sea, please visit RNLI.org/ThePerfectStorm
*Festive periods calculated from 24 Dec to 1 Jan
Notes to editors
Please find attached a jpeg images of David Perkins and generations of his family who are here today to celebrate Christmas thanks to St Davids RNLI. Also attached are images of the historic St Davids lifeboat Swn y Mor.
RNLI media contacts
For more information, please contact Danielle Rush, RNLI Media Relations Manager in Wales and the West on 07786 668829. Alternatively, call the RNLI Press Office on 01202 336789 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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 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.