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Volunteers awarded for their years of service with RNLI Ilfracombe

Lifeboats News Release

Volunteers who have between them given 190 years’ service to RNLI Ilfracombe were celebrated at the lifeboat station's recent awards night.


Boat crew standing in front of Lloyds II From left to right: Ian Meadlarkin, Denny Booker, David Clemence, John Clemence, Albert Shiller, Malcolm Joel, Bob Thompson

Saturday night saw the annual awards night for RNLI Ilfracombe which, this year, was held at the Carlton Hotel. With around a hundred people attending, one of the event organisers, boat crewman Richard Woolmer said, “It was a fantastic evening with so many people there able to relax and catch up with old friends. It was probably one of the biggest awards nights we’ve ever had and all areas of our work were represented with, not just lifeboat crews, but volunteers from our shop, fundraising, water safety team, press and the boathouse teams, and of course, our families.”

After a three course meal, Rich Legg, Lifeboat Operations Manager got up to speak and all who were there took a moment to stand and raise a glass to the Station’s late Coxswain, Andrew Bengey, who is so greatly missed by all, and particularly so on an occasion such as this.

The evening saw an incredible six people receive medals for their long service. Between them the six have been with the lifeboat service here for a total of 190 years. Ilfracombe is very fortunate in having so many people give so much time to the work of saving lives at sea which creates an enormous wealth of experience that benefits us all.

Bob Thompson was the longest-serving recipient of the awards, having been with RNLI Ilfracombe for 0 years. Bob joined in 1972 as shore crew on the suggestion of his neighbour who thought that, as Bob had spent most of his years up to that point on or around boats, he might enjoy the challenge of becoming crew. Very soon afterwards Bob joined the boat crew on Lloyds II which had been Ilfracombe’s lifeboat since 1966. In those days, Bob remembers, “There were no seats – just side benches in the wheelhouse. She was a fantastic sea boat but it was all pretty much open and we were exposed to whatever weather there was. Hit a good wave and everything would go dark and we’d fill with water.”

Things advanced apace and, in 1976, the boat was fitted with radar and a VHF radio direction finder which made finding casualties much easier.

“We were also given facilities to make a hot drink”, Bob remembers. One rescue which stands our particularly in Bob’s memory was one night when seven boys and three adults were rescued from desperate circumstances under Little Hangman trapped by the rising tide.

“We got to them just in time”, Bob recalls. “John Clemence and I in the rubber dinghy reached the casualties where they were stranded on rocks and we were able to transfer them onto Lloyds II.” The boys were suffering the effects of exposure when they were rescued. The crew received a letter of thanks from the RNLI for this service.

When the Spirit of Derbyshire arrived in Ilfracombe in 1990, Bob says “It was wonderful – it was warm and dry, and it was so much faster”. The job we do is still the same but the new lifeboats mean the speed we can do it, and the technology we have to help us, has changed hugely”.

Bob retired from the boat crew in 2009 having served as second mechanic on both Lloyds II and the Spirit of Derbyshire. He handed his role over to Leigh Hanks. Bob spent the next 15 years as Deputy Launch Authority, responsible for taking the initial details of each callout and authorises the launch of the most appropriate boat. However, Bob still volunteers with the RNLI now, both on the station management group and as an author.

He has always been a phenomenal fundraiser. “It all started because we had no gloves. My tutor group at the Ilfracombe Community Group and I did a sponsored walk and we raised enough money for six pairs of gloves for the boat crew.” When the Spirit of Derbyshire was on its way, he raised £60,000 to help kit out the boat and her crew. When money was needed for the inshore lifeboat, he had £12,000 pledged from local donors and organisations by the end of the week.

However, being boat crew was not his only contribution to the lifeboat service. In 1978 Bob wrote his first book on the history of Ilfracombe lifeboats. Three more editions followed and he is now working on the fifth. For each book, he raised enough money to cover the printing costs so that all the proceeds of book sales go straight to RNLI Ilfracombe.

Andrew Putt, Coxswain/Mechanic at Ilfracombe until 2010, presented Bob, not only with his 50 years’ service medal but also an Excellence in Volunteering award because of his remarkable fundraising work. “I was so honoured to receive these awards,” says Bob. “And so happy to be given them by Andrew who has been a great friend for so many years. It was a wonderful evening, catching up and remembering all the old stories”.

Andrew Putt gave long service medals to five other crew members. Leigh Hanks (who retired this year as Station Mechanic but remains as boat crew), Stuart Carpenter (current Mechanic/Coxswain) and Carl Perrin (who has been Ilfracombe’s Second Coxswain for more than 12 years) were each presented with 30 year medals. Jonathon Davies (whose roles have included boat crew, head launcher and launch vehicle driver) and Nigel Fairchild (former launch authority) both received their 20 years’ service medals.

Certificates of thanks were given to six crew members who have left their roles now but who gave so much during their time at the station. Steve Ashton was a boat crew member for more than 20 years; Chris Wallis has been a volunteer with RNLI Ilfracombe since 2000, taking on, in 2013, the key role of Lifeboat Operations Manager. Nigel Fairchild joined in 2003 as shore crew and became a Shannon Launch and recovery vehicle driver, Head Launcher and a Launch Authority. Harvey Mason and Shirley Keen received certificates for their roles as shore crew (Shirley has now moved to the Water Safety Team) and Andy Maslen received his certificate having served on the all-weather lifeboat as crew and mechanic. Gudrun Limbrick received a certificate for her continuing role in the press team.

RNLI Ilfracombe’s next big event is on 16th March when we are hoping as many people as possible will join on Capstone Hill for a town photograph to celebrate the RNLI’s 200th birthday. Everyone welcome!


Andrew Putt and Bob Thompson with his awards

RNLI/Gudrun Limbrick

The award winners

RNLI/Gudrun Limbrick

The award winners

RNLI/Gudrun Limbrick

Bob's 50 years' service medal


The Shannon lifeboat in 2015 with some of the award winners including Steve Ashton, Leigh Hanks, Carl Perrin, and Stuart Carpenter. With Coxswain Andrew Bengey.

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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