Dedicated trio honoured for 75 years of service to Berwick-upon-Tweed RNLI

Lifeboats News Release

During a crew meeting on 6 November, Berwick-upon-Tweed lifeboat station presented three volunteers with their long service awards, of a combined total of 75 years voluntary service to the charity.

Michael Avril, Ian Hay & Douglas Blackhall

RNLI/Hazel Bettison

A total of 75 years voluntary service at Berwick-upon-Tweed RNLI

Douglas Blackhall known to everyone in Berwick as ‘Spider’ was presented first by the President Ian Hay of Berwick-upon-Tweed lifeboat station with his award in recognition of his valuable service of 15 years to the crew and station. He joined in the capacity of Shore Crew in 2004 plus as Plant Operator in 2013. During his time in service four lives have been rescued.

Due to health problems Spider is stepping down from his duties at Berwick-upon-Tweed lifeboat station.

The crew shouted 'speech' after his presentation. This is the first time anybody has ever known him to be speechless.

He eventually found his tongue and said: ‘I can’t believe this, thank you so much, I didn’t expect all this, all I can say is how great it has been working with such fantastic people.’

Head Launcher Debbie Robertson said: ‘At the station we are all going to miss him terribly, Spider has been fantastic, you knew when the pagers went off you could depend on him, he was always reliable in turning up. He was great to work with; he knew exactly what was needed and how it had to be done working as a great team member.

'He will be most remembered for how he jollied everyone along whereby he would be singing away his little songs as he worked. Having a conversation with him was second to none. I have never known anyone who had a story for every occasion or could tell such funny jokes with such good wit and humour. Setting that a side he has been one loyal serving member to our station.

'From everyone at Berwick-upon-Tweed lifeboat station and on behalf of the RNLI we thank you for your voluntary dedication in helping save lives at sea. We still hope he keeps popping into the station, as he would say, 'for a bit crack.’

President Ian Hay then secondly went on to present Michael Avril with his 30 years long service voluntary award.

In response to being asked when he joined the RNLI, Michael explained: ’As a youngster growing up in Eyemouth I was always interested in lifeboats and my best friend’s dad was the station mechanic and organised me to help out at the station as part of my Duke of Edinburgh Award. On leaving school I started work at the local boatyard where many of the employees volunteered for the lifeboat, I asked to join the crew.

'Probably the most memorable shout would be my first which was to a missing fishing boat which was found off Burnmouth Harbour, I will never forget hearing my pager go, running to the station and being picked to go to sea. It was a nasty day with strong wind and driving rain but the boat was found safe in the harbour 30 minutes after we launched.

Michael explained further: 'The reason I continue to volunteer after 30 years at Berwick Upon Tweed Station is that I still love being part of the crew and helping others in both non-emergency and emergency situations. I am very proud of my fellow crew members especially my daughter who joined the crew officially after her 17th birthday!'

It was after these two awards that the Lifeboat Operations Manager Brian Cowan, along with Head Coxswain Ali Laing then surprised the President Ian Hay with his 30 year long service voluntary award.

Before officially joining the RNLI, Ian had helped and worked alongside the RNLI for many years.

He recalled afterwards: ‘It all started when I was a member of Berwick Sailing Club, where when people were training to sail and race catamarans, I was part of the crew who went out in what was known as the rescue boat called the Bernadine. It was a dingy which we used in case anyone went overboard whilst racing. This was in the days before Berwick-upon-Tweed lifeboat station had an inshore lifeboat. On a number of occasions we were asked to help out the RNLI when they needed to get closer to the shore for a rescue.

'I had a number of friends who were on the Lifeboat Management Committee at Berwick-upon-Tweed lifeboat station. It was after helping out at a number of fundraisers for the RNLI, that I was asked if I cared to join the RNLI officially.'

Ian continued: 'So in 1990 I joined the Lifeboat Management Committee becoming Vice Chairman in 1998, then Chairman three years later. It was in 2004 that I was then asked if I would I also become part of the Deputy Launching Authority.

'It was an honour in 2013 after the late President Ian Moore of Berwick-upon-Tweed lifeboat station died, that I was then made up to President.

'I may be 80 years old but I am still after all these years proud to be able to serve as a volunteer at Berwick lifeboat station, with such great people and their RNLI families. I say RNLI families because for every member of the RNLI who train weekly and answer their pager 24/7 365 days a year, a family serves behind them with their love and support.'

Ian concluded: 'It has been a total surprise to me receiving my award; I thought I only had to present awards, I am truly grateful thank you.’

This is a total of 75 years voluntary service given by 'three great people', Berwick-upon-Tweed RNLI 'thanks' you all.

RNLI Media contacts

For more information please telephone Hazel Bettison, Berwick RNLI Volunteer Lifeboat Press Officer on 07944757578 or Brian Cowan, Berwick RNLI Lifeboat Operations Manager, on 07962003238.


RNLI/Hazel Bettison

15 years service to Berwick RNLI

RNLI/Hazel Bettison

30 years long service award.

RNLI/Hazel Bettison

30 years service award

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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