Poole Lifeboat Remembers D Day
‘Years do not diminish the sacrifices made,past present and future, we will remember’
That was the message from the Poole Lifeboat family on Sunday (June 2) who gathered at St James’ Church in the heart of Poole, where 75 years ago the US Coastguard crews came to worship, many miles from home and they left a memento, one of their own flags, the stars (48) and stripes which hangs in the Church today, turn your head up and look at it and remember the crews who in the words on their memorial plaque ‘appreciated the kindness of the people of Poole’
A few weeks prior to D Day, President Franklin D. Roosevelt and Churchill agreed that Operation Neptune (the naval part of Operation Overlord) needed a rescue flotilla. Sixty wood-hulled 83-footers were selected and each cutter was transported “piggy-back” on the decks of the Liberty Ships across the Atlantic.
The patrol boats, each 83 feet long, were designed for anti-submarine patrol, coastal search and escort, but had been modified as rescue craft. The wooden, gasoline-powered cutters, vulnerable to incendiary shells, were nicknamed the ‘Matchbox Fleet.’.
On June 6, 1944, the weather broke and the call came, the Cutters along with many vessels from Poole crossed the English Channel silently slipping anchor, stealthily making their way through the harbour, a steady stream off to France.
Poole Lifeboat family followed their flag and walked alongside the Reverend Lucy Holt towards the Quay, stopping for a moment at the Operation Overlord plaque which is on the wall of the Custom house close to the Old Coastguard building. A moment for reflection, envisaging the hustle and bustle of preparation in those dark days of war, onwards along the quay thinking about the influx of troops, the tension building as the D Day invasion became imminent, but for most apprehension at that time, not knowing what lay ahead.
We stopped at the Dolphin Quays where the D Day plaque, which incorporates symbols from all of the Armed Services, is on the wall, it was specially commissioned to commemorate the 50th anniversary.
Then as we way walked towards the US Coast Guard memorial the lifeboats in the slipway and the solemn crews lined up from Poole Lifeboat and Poole Coastguard Search and Rescue team, it was a visualisation that echoed, the courageous spirit and courage of the crews of the Cutters
A short service led by Reverend Lucy, where a wreath and flowers were laid upon the memorial followed by prayers and reflection. ‘The Last Post’ poignantly played by Harry Bassett, heads dropped in respect for the two minutes silence, only the lifeboat flags fluttering in the gentle breeze as the clock is stopped to remember and focus on those all-too-many, lives that never had a chance of fulfilment. We reflect on the horror of war and the sacrifices people made and we resolve to never let it happen again.
They shall not grow old as we who are left grow old.
Age shall not weary them, nor do the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning, we will remember them.
The lifeboat crews then took the wreath out to sea and let it drift off with the tide in the Swash Channel, following the passage that the 60 Cutters took some 75 years ago.
The Cutters of Rescue Flotilla One saved more than 400 men on D-Day alone and by the time the unit was decommissioned in December 1944 they had saved 1,438 people and a small part of them will always be in Poole, 75 years on we remember D Day and the pivotal moment in our history, and think about the 156,000 allied troops who landed on the beaches of Normandy, many never came home but will always be remembered.
The words of our RNLI founder Sir William Hillary come to mind ‘With Courage nothing is impossible’ they were fighting for freedom, the right to live and the right for our futures, thank you, we will never forget
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.