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Selsey remembers George Woodland who served with the station for over 60 years

Lifeboats News Release

Former and current members and volunteers of Selsey Lifeboat Station are sad to announce the passing of George Woodland who served as a Lifeboat crew member, second Coxswain and finally a volunteer for over sixty years.

Photo of George meeting Mike Wells, the 222-month old rescued from the 'Masslust' in 1956.


George meeting Mike Wells, the 22-month old rescued from the 'Masslust' in 1956.

Lifeboat Operations Manager, Tony Delahunty, says: 'George was highly respected by all past and present crew and volunteers at Selsey Lifeboat Station. I personally had the privilege of serving with George for over twenty years, he was always enthusiastic, very knowledgeable and passionate about the RNLI. Even when he retired from the crew, he would be at the Station helping where he could and relaying stories of rescues to visitors. George was a real credit to Selsey and the RNLI.'

George retired in 1990 as Second Coxswain after 38 years as a crew member during which time he served on the Canadian Pacific, the Charles Henry and the City of London lifeboats. He also crewed the first inshore lifeboat stationed at Selsey in1968.

During this time George received three medal service certificates and two Vellum service certificates. After retiring George put his interest in local history to great use and took on the role of the station’s museum curator. He spent many hours updating and modernising the museum.

He also guided groups of visitors and school parties around the museum. In 2002 George was presented with a vellum award for 50 years of volunteering for the RNLI. In retirement George was always around to give advice to anyone who wanted it, including the team tasked with demolishing the old lifeboat station. George worked on the build of that station in 1959-60. Back in those days during the winter the fishermen would get work with local builders or firms involved in sea defence or building projects.

George was asked to join the Selsey RNLI lifeboat crew in 1952 aged 17 years. Lifeboats weren’t as busy in early part of his time with the RNLI but here are some of the service calls that he was involved in:

Between the late evening of Saturday 28th July and Sunday 29th 1956 the RNLI had its' busiest day to date. Widespread gales swept across southern England when gusts of 88 to 90 miles per hour were recorded. 38 lifeboat stations made a total of 52 launches, 107 people were rescued, 12 given assistance, 14 vessels saved, and 7 others given help. Services for which medals were awarded were carried out by Selsey, Dover and Dungeness.

Just before mid-day on the Sunday the Coastguard reported a small yacht had been sighted flying a distress signal. The maroons were fired, and the lifeboat crew hurried down to the boathouse. Due to high winds they had great difficulty in getting out along the exposed gangway, crawling one at a time to get out to the lifeboat-house for fear of being blown off the gantry and into the turbulent sea.

At 12-10 p.m. the Canadian Pacific, under the command of Coxswain Douglas Grant, slid down the slipway into the rough seas. The seas had disturbed local lobster pots from the seabed and soon both of the lifeboat's propellers had been fouled by their ropes. It was out of the question to stop the engines to try and clear the propellers, so the lifeboat slowly battled her way out.

At 12-30 p.m. the lifeboat-men sighted the 40- ton, steel-hulled ketch Maaslust. She had lost all of her sails, but her engines were still working. The ketch was almost surrounded by rocks and with the sea being whipped up into clouds of spray; visibility was at times reduced to almost zero.

Coxswain Grant skilfully manoeuvred the lifeboat up to the Maaslust to rescue the people who were on board, but just as the two boats came together a huge wave struck the ketch and swept her away from the lifeboat. At that moment, the lifeboat-men spotted another yacht who appeared to be in even greater danger, Coxswain Grant decided with the consent of the skipper of the Maaslust to head for her.

She was the Bloodhound which was lying at anchor after losing all of her sails. Huge waves were sweeping clean over her, threatening to wash her crew of nine overboard. Coxswain Grant manoeuvred the lifeboat up to the yacht and held her there, bow-on.

Tremendous seas continually smashed over both boats as the seven men and two women were rescued from the Bloodhound. The Coxswain then put both engines into reverse to pull the lifeboat clear, this also cleared some of the ropes which had been fouling the propellers, and as a result engine power was increased.

While the nine survivors were put into the lifeboat's fore-cabin and wrapped in blankets, the lifeboat headed back to the Maaslust. There were six people on board, three men, a woman, a 12-year-old girl and a 22-month-old baby.

The owner of the ketch later said that as the lifeboat approached them, his anemometer registered a wind speed of over 90 mph. and he estimated that the waves breaking over his boat were up to 30 feet high. But all were rescued and shortly afterwards the Maaslust disappeared from view.

During this rescue, the lifeboat received slight damage and the rudder was jammed. As it appeared likely that the life­boat might now be driven ashore, he gave the order to prepare to drop the anchor. But just as he was about to shout, 'Let go!' the rudder freed itself.

Coxswain Grant then set course for Portsmouth Harbour. On the way there, the lifeboat-men spotted another yacht the Coima, on her side. She had been driven by the storm from her anchorage and was in imminent danger of being swept ashore.

Coxswain Grant manoeuvred the lifeboat up to her starboard-quarter and the crew of three were quickly rescued. As the lifeboat went astern the yacht instantly sank. After landing all 18 survivors at Portsmouth the lifeboat-men had a welcome hot meal and then sailed back to Selsey, arriving back at 10-00 p.m. Next morning, the lifeboat went out again and towed-in the Bloodhound, which had survived the storm.

In addition to the Silver Medal awarded to Coxswain Douglas Grant, for this outstanding service, each of the other members of that very gallant crew, Second Coxswain Len Lawrence, Bowman H. Lawrence, Motor Mechanic John Haslett, Assistant Mechanic A. Fullick and lifeboat crew J. Byron, G. Woodland and K. Maidment, were awarded the Institution's Thanks on Vellum.

On the evening of 19th July 2006, a very poignant reunion was held in the boathouse. It was to mark the anniversary of the rescue of 19 people from the Maaslust, Bloodhound and the Coima that very stormy day 50 years earlier.

The last member of that gallant crew still with us at the time was George Woodland, later Second Coxswain, and Mike Grant, son of Coxswain Douglas Grant, himself Coxswain of Selsey Lifeboats for 20 years. They met the '22 month old baby' rescued from the Maaslust, Mr. Peter Wells.

A pleasant evening was had by many of the current crew members of the Selsey Lifeboats as they listened to the events of that night recalled by George and the tale as told to Peter and Mike by their fathers. Plenty of photos and press cuttings were on hand from George, and Peter and Mike brought their fathers' albums along too.

During the evening we discovered that the Maaslust was one of the little ships who did such a heroic job at Dunkirk. Also, as her engines were still running when all were taken off her that day, she eventually sank five miles off Worthing.

At 1230 hrs on the 29th July, almost 50 years to the second of the anniversary of the rescue of the people on board the Maaslust, Peter and George met up once again in the boathouse. Peter had come from a small ceremony to inter his father's ashes on the wreck of the Maaslust off Worthing. He presented George with a painting of the 'Maaslust', and a bottle of something to warm the cockles of his heart, to mark his personal thanks for that rescue 50 years ago.

On the 4th August 2014 Nicki Constant, who was rescued from the Maaslust when she was 11, visited the station on her 70th birthday. She met George Woodland and Mike Grant as well as members of the current crew.

Nicki said: 'The baby, who was 22 months, and myself, we were put down below and she recalled how a mattress was put up, keeping them within the first tier of bunk beds, as the adults battled the storm.” We were behind the mattress, bouncing around for God knows how many hours," she said. "We really thought we’d had it. We thought we weren’t coming back. When the Canadian Pacific came back for us, she remembers “The crew were all with their arms out and somebody grabbed my arms. They flung me like a fish over their heads. It was scary. It is still very vivid, I might not have been here except for thanks to you," she told the lifeboat crew.

MFV Jenny

December 10th, 1977 the crew of the 23-ton beam trawler Jenny reported they were in difficulties in heavy seas roughly 5 miles east of the nab tower. The lifeboat launched at 10.14pm with 2nd coxswain Mike Grant in command and George as acting 2nd coxswain.

The Charles Henry and her crew had an extremely rough passage through the Looe channel, the heavy seas making the lifeboat roll violently. The trawler was eventually found further to west than his given position. As the lifeboat approached the Jenny she was rolling violently and the fact she had both her beams down probably prevented her from capsizing. The weather had now worsened considerably to force 9 with extremely high seas and the torrential rain was being driven horizontally reducing visibility.

With the lifeboat manoeuvred upwind of the trawler, acting 2nd coxswain George standing out on the open deck with two other crewmen struggling to hold him steady as huge seas crashed over them, fired a rocket line towards the crippled trawler. Despite the appalling conditions, his aim was true, and he hit the target first time. Two of the trawlers crew hauled in the light rocket but struggled with the larger tow line.

Eventually the tow was established, and a course was set for Portsmouth. The trawlers steering gear was jammed to starboard which made it a difficult tow, but Portsmouth harbour was reached at 2.30am. The conditions at Selsey prevented the lifeboat from being rehoused so they remained at Portsmouth till the afternoon. Acting coxswain Mike Grant received the RNLI's Thanks on Vellum with Vellum certificates going to the other crew members George Woodland, Terry Wood, John Cross, Denis Warwick, Dave Munday, Gordon Kite, Dave Crossley, Glyn Amis.

In 1978 Mike Grant became coxswain and George took on the roll as 2nd coxswain.

MFV New Venture

Just after 8.30pm on December 30th, 1978 the crew of the 42ft fishing vessel New Venture reported their vessel was sinking midway between the Nab tower and Hayling Island and required immediate assistance. A severe north -easterly gale was blowing and there were frequent heavy snow showers which at times reduced visibility to almost zero.

Helicopter assistance had been requested, but at the time conditions prevented one taking off. So both Selsey and Bembridge lifeboats were tasked to find the New Venturer both launching at 9.00pm. Selsey went straight round the bill to begin a search of Bracklesham Bay as the crew of the trawler reported touching the bottom close to a pole with a basket on it, this being taken to be in the area of the East pole sands.

Conditions for searching were difficult with heavy snow repeatedly cleared from the outside of the wheel house windows and with it being such a bitterly cold night ice was a problem on the inside. The radar stopped working four times - each time it had to be cleared of snow.

Just after midnight the Tanker Esso Caernarvon which was helping in the search reported they had found the vessel close to the Nab tower. The Esso Caernarvon or the cross-channel ferry Viking Venture could get close to the trawler to assist but they did flood light them until the arrival of Selsey lifeboat at 1.20am.

The lifeboat cautiously approached the trawler in the heavy seas and was manoeuvred close enough for the two crew to be rescued and a tow line attached. As soon as the tow began the trawler started sinking and the tow line had to be cut.

A course was set for Chichester harbour which was reached at 4.10am and, as the seas were far too heavy at Selsey for the lifeboat to be rehoused, it was decided to leave her in the harbour and two cars were sent from Selsey to take the exhausted lifeboat-men home. But conditions on land were so bad, with heavy snow drifts, that a 'Land Rover' had to lead the way, forcing a path through the deep snow.

For this excellent service, Coxswain Mike Grant was awarded the RNLI's Thanks on Vellum, with Vellum Service Certificates being presented to each of the other members of that crew, Second Coxswain George Woodland, Motor Mechanic Ron Wells, Assistant Mechanic Terry Wood and lifeboat crew Paul Davis, Martin Rudwick, David Munday and David Crossley.

MV Cape Coast

At 3-27 a.m. on January 10th. 1979, the crew of the motor-vessel Cape Coast, a 2,650-ton Panamanian registered cargo-vessel, reported that their ship was taking water into the engine-room. They were just over two miles from the Nab Tower and the Captain of H.M.S. Eskimo radioed that they were heading for the scene.

But when the crew of the Cape Coast then reported that their ship had developed a list to starboard, the Selsey lifeboat-men were placed on 'stand-by'. The weather at the time was absolutely dreadful, with the wind gusting up to storm-force 10 and churning up exceptionally violent seas. At 4-00 a.m, HMS Eskimo radioed that sea conditions were too severe for her to launch her sea-boat and so she asked for the help of a lifeboat.

Ten minutes later, the Charles Henry was launched into the violent seas, her launchers having had a difficult and dangerous task in getting the boathouse doors open. The anemometer at the Life­boat Station recorded a wind speed of 63 knots, just as the lifeboat was being launched. Once afloat the lifeboat crew rigged the radar-scanner and the radio-aerials, an extremely hazardous task in the terrible conditions. With everyone in the wheelhouse, Coxswain Grant set course to clear the Mixon Reef.

After passing through the Looe Channel, the lifeboat ran into mountainous seas with waves estimated at up to 35 feet high. The lifeboat was hit by three tremendous breaking waves, in very quick succession, the first of which lifted the boat clear of the water. She came down into the trough with a shuddering crash and, although speed was then reduced, she continued to pound very heavily.

The lifeboat crew had an exceedingly rough passage out but eventually they reached the Cape Coast at 5-20 a.m. The cargo vessel's decks were being swept continuously by huge waves and she was dragging her anchor in the tremendous seas.

The weather reports indicated that the storm should ease in a few hours’ time and so the crew of the vessel were advised to remain on board until daylight while the Selsey Lifeboat remained nearby in case the situation suddenly worsened.

By 7-20 a.m. the wind had indeed eased, very slightly, down to force 9 and, although the seas were still extremely rough, Coxswain Mike Grant advised the Master of the vessel that he intended to take the crew off, a few at a time. The Cape Coast was rolling and pitching alarmingly and the Coxswain had to use all his skill and vast experience to take the heavily fendered bows of the lifeboat up to the starboard-quarter of the cargo-vessel, where a pilot ladder was hanging over the side.

With four of the lifeboat-men standing out on the open deck of the lifeboat, huge waves repeatedly crashing over them, Coxswain Grant held the lifeboat in position, by very skilful use of the engines and rudder, while seven men were snatched to safety.

Suddenly, an exceptionally heavy wave swept the two boats apart and a second run-in had to be made. But this time, a female member of the ship's crew mistimed her leap from the pilot ladder, and she landed across the lifeboat's guard-rail.

It was only thanks to the very quick reactions by the lifeboat-men, which saved her from falling between the two boats and she was quickly taken into the lifeboat's aft-cabin and wrapped in blankets. On a third run-in, the remaining members of the ship's crew were rescued. However, during this operation, the lifeboat was driven hard against the side of the cargo-vessel by several very heavy seas and she received some damage.

Just 20 minutes after the rescue had begun, Coxswain Grant was able to report that all 20 members of the ship's crew had been rescued and the Charles Henry was heading for Portsmouth Harbour. The lifeboat reached there at 9-55 a.m. and the survivors were landed at H.M.S. Vernon.

For this truly outstanding rescue, Coxswain Mike Grant was awarded a Silver Medal by the R.N.L.I., with Medal Service Certificates later being presented to each of the other members of that very gallant crew, Second Coxswain George Woodland, Motor Mechanic Ron Wells, Assistant Mechanic Terry Wood and lifeboat crew Paul Smeaton, Derek Allchurch and Richard Smith.

Enchantress of Hamble

The Charles Henry was launched at 7-20 p.m. on September 9th 1983 after the Coastguard reported that a yacht had run aground in the Looe Channel and was in need of assistance, the lifeboat heading out into very rough seas and a near gale-force southerly wind.

Visibility at the time was very poor and the tide was exceptionally low at the time of the launch, Coxswain Mike Grant then barely being able to maintain two-thirds speed, as the lifeboat bumped along the bottom for the first half-a-mile or so, despite the other lifeboat-men standing-out on the open foredeck, in an attempt to reduce the lifeboat's draft, aft. The exact position of the casualty, the 33ft. Enchantress of Hamble, was not known for certain at that stage, but was later confirmed as half-a-mile south-west of Selsey Bill.

The lifeboat encountered extremely heavy seas as she passed to the west of the Head Rocks, but, at 7-45 p.m. when close to the western end of 'The Streets', a light was spotted, close to the shore. The life­boat-men fired a white parachute-flare and they then saw the casualty, lying close to 'The Streets', with her bows to the north-west.

The whole area was a mass of white, foaming water and Coxswain Grant realised that, because of the low state of the tide, he could not approach the yacht directly from his present position. Instead, he had to go back eastwards, until he was able to take the lifeboat through a narrow channel, between the Head Rocks and the Mixon Reef.

In daylight, anyone using that channel would rely heavily on reference points on the shore, to guide them, but, at night and in very heavy seas, Coxswain Grant had to rely solely on radar information, together with his own excellent knowledge of the area.

As the lifeboat cautiously made her way across the inner edge of the Head Rocks, waves up to 10 feet high continuously swept clean over her and she repeatedly struck the bottom. But they got through safely and, as they approached the yacht, which was dragging her anchor, a huge wave struck the life­boat on her port side, just as some of her crew were moving out of the wheelhouse and onto the deck.

The wave passed right through the wheelhouse and filled the cockpit with water, waist deep. The six people on board the yacht confirmed by radio that they wished to be taken off and so Coxswain Grant made his first approach. But a particularly heavy sea swung the lifeboat's bow round to starboard and he had to quickly take the lifeboat astern, in the full knowledge that they were now very close to the Hook Sands.

A second run-in was made, and Coxswain Grant skilfully put the lifeboat's starboard bow up against the yacht and held it there by use of the engines. Two men and two women were taken off the yacht and it was then agreed to pass a towline across to the two remaining yachtsmen. This was done and the line was made fast. The yacht's anchor-rope was cut, and, at 8-55 p.m., the last two men were taken off the yacht.

Coxswain Grant took the lifeboat slowly ahead and to port, to clear the Hook Sands and then, at half-speed, he set an easterly course, so as to clear the rocks in the area to head towards Portsmouth Harbour. However, as they battled on, one of the women became very ill from sea-sickness and so Coxswain Grant made for the lifeboat-house at Selsey, a request being radioed ashore for the ILB to be launched, to land the two women.

The ILB, manned by Helmsman Mark Donald and lifeboat-man Tony Delahunty, was launched and met-up with the Charles Henry at 9-10 p.m., in the lee of the lifeboat-slipway. The two women were taken aboard the ILB and landed at 9-20 p.m. the Charles Henry then resuming her passage to Portsmouth Harbour, which they reached safely at 12-30 a.m., the yacht then being moored in Camper and Nicholson's Marina. After some well-earned refreshments, the life­boat-men set off again at 3-00 a.m. and arrived off Selsey at 5-30 a.m., by which time the weather had eased sufficiently to allow the lifeboat to be safely rehoused.

For his outstanding seamanship and tremendous courage, during this remarkable rescue, Coxswain Mike Grant was awarded a Silver Medal - his second - by the R.N.L.I., all the other members of that excellent crew, Second Coxswain George Woodland, Acting Motor Mechanic Terry Wood, Acting Assistant Mechanic Donald Lawrence and lifeboat-men Martin Rudwick, David Mundy, Keith Lintott and Nigel Osbourn, each receiving Medal Service Certificates.

RNLI media contacts

For more information please telephone Max Gilligan, Selsey RNLI volunteer Lifeboat Press Officer on 07956 415429 or [email protected] or Paul Dunt, Regional Media Officer on 07785 296252 or [email protected] or contact the RNLI Press Office on 01202 336789.

The 'Canadian Pacific' and her crew. George is wearing the Sou'wester hat.


The 'Canadian Pacific' and her crew. George is wearing the Sou'wester hat.
The crew on the 'Charles Henry' lifeboat. George is in his flatcap.


The crew on the 'Charles Henry' lifeboat. George is in his flat cap.
George meets Nicki Constant rescued from the 'Masslust' in 1956.


George meets Nicki Constant rescued from the 'Masslust' in 1956.

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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 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.

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