The Stromness Lifeboat, Violet Dorothy and Kathleen, with her volunteer crew visited Longhope lifeboat station on Sunday, !7th March, to pay respects at the commemoration of the loss of the volunteer crew of RNLI Longhope Lifeboat, TGB, 50 years ago exactly.
Under bright skies, but with an icy wind blowing, about 400 people from Orkney, and further afield, gathered at the tiny lifeboat museum of Brims, in the Orkney island of Hoy, to pay their respects to the eight volunteer crew members of the RNLI Lifeboat - TGB. The men lost their lives on the night of 17th March 1969 when their boat - the Watson class
TGB - was overcome by an exceptional wave whilst on service to the stricken vessel
Irene off South Ronaldsay.
The museum is, in fact, the former shed and slipway from which TGB had been launched. There was not room inside for everyone so the service was relayed via video link to the community hall in Longhope. Lifeboats and volunteer crews from Wick and Thurso joined the Longhope and Stromness boats for the occasion, forming a flotilla to sail, in line astern, past the old shed. Coastguard, pilot boat and a tug also stood by. A coastguard helicopter flew over.
A very moving ceremony was then held at Osmondwall cemetery where seven of the eight men are laid to rest, clustered around the life-size, bronze statue of a lifeboatman which forms their memorial. The eighth man, Jimmy Swanson, was never found. Wreaths were laid by the present crew of Longhope, together with wreaths from the other stations, The Lord Lieutenant, Police Scotland, Royal British Legion and The Royal Navy.
There were few tears, the whole day had been to celebrate the lives of the crew of
TGB, and to give thanks for them. Nevertheless one could see, etched in the faces of everyone there, they had come to stand up and be counted in giving recognition to the supreme sacrifice made fifty years ago, and to pledge the men would never be forgotten.
The folk of Longhope then treated everyone to tea and sandwiches in the community hall, which was standing room only by the time I squeezed in. There were moving speeches and the event was rounded off by family members playing
The Heroes of Longhope, a tune specially written soon after the disaster.
This was the lifeboat family coming together to remember some of their own who had been lost, as they always will. One of the things volunteer lifeboat crews treasure above all is their sense of family.
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.
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Contacting the RNLI - public enquiries
Members of the public may contact the RNLI on 0300 300 9990 (UK) or 1800 991802 (Ireland) or by email.