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RNLI silver medal for gallantry returns to Newhaven Lifeboat

Lifeboats News Release

An RNLI silver medal awarded for gallantry to William (Bill) J. Harvey, Coxswain, nearly 70 years ago, has been given to Newhaven Lifeboat by his family.

David Cobb

'Rescue from the Vega' painted by David Cobb
On 26 November 1954 the RNLI lifeboat Cecil and Lilian Philpott launched to Vega, a Danish timber schooner that was floundering in a heavy gale, approximately twenty miles south of Beachy Head.

Arriving on scene, the casualty vessel was found to be listing 30 degrees to port, with her cargo of timber adrift, booms swinging and rolling wildly.

One of Vega’s Danish seamen jumped overboard with a line and was pulled into the lifeboat by her volunteer crew.

Bill Harvey ordered a ‘breeches buoy’ to be rigged. A system of ropes and pulleys, by which they were able to maintain a safe enough distance and successfully transfer the remaining seven seamen from the Vega onto the lifeboat.

Bill Harvey, Coxswain, was awarded the RNLI silver medal for gallantry to recognise his part is this lifesaving work in the face of tremendous and treacherous conditions.

Bill Harvey was also the recipient of The Maud Smith award for the bravest act of life-saving in 1954, also for this service.

Brendan Foat, nephew of the late Joy Foat (Bill’s daughter), wished for the medal to be appreciated in its rightful environment rather than stowed away for safe-keeping in a drawer.

Roger Cohen MBE, Lifeboat Operations Manager, says: ‘It is a great pleasure to see a part of the Station’s history come back to the crew room. We have a painting of the rescue and the medal will enhance the display.’

‘On behalf of all the team here and the RNLI, I thank Brendan and his family for donating the medal and placing it into the care of Newhaven Lifeboat.’

Notes for the editor
• The Cecil and Lilian Philpott was stationed at Newhaven between 1930 and 1959. At Dunkirk she was manned by a Royal Navy crew. She only made one trip to Dunkirk and that nearly ended in disaster when the lifeboat ran aground and was left high and dry for four hours. However, she returned to England on the 3rd June 1940, with 51 soldiers on board. In November 1940, she survived being rammed and almost cut in two by the Admiralty Trawler HMT Avanturine.
• A breeches buoy is a rope-based rescue device used to extract people from wrecked vessels, or to transfer people from one place to another in situations of danger. The device resembles a round emergency personal flotation device with a leg harness attached. It is similar to a zip line. The breeches buoy may be deployed from shore to ship, ship to ship, or ship to shore using a Manby mortar, rocket, kite system or a Lyle gun, and allowed evacuations of one person at a time. A line is attached to the ship, and the person being rescued is pulled to shore in the breeches buoy.
Established in 1803, Newhaven RNLI is now a modern afloat station, which currently supports a Severn class All-weather Lifeboat (ALB), the David and Elizabeth Acland.

RNLI media contacts
For more information please telephone Roz Ashton, RNLI volunteer Lifeboat Press Officer on 07900 887423 or [email protected] or Paul Dunt, Regional Media Officer on 07785 296252 [email protected] or contact the RNLI Press Office on 01202 336789.

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RNLI Newhaven

Brendan Foat (left) with Roger Cohen MBE (right)


William (Bill) J. Harvey, Coxswain


RNLI Silver Medal for Gallantry

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 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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