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Torbay RNLI does its part in commemorating the 200th Anniversary of the RNLI

Lifeboats News Release

Over two days last week, Sunday 3rd and Monday 4th, Torbay’s crew, past and present, did their bit and more, to partake and celebrate with RNLI supporters, events that marked the charity’s second centenary, in the Bay and up in London.

In convoy en route from Berry Head to Brixham Harbour

Chris Slack

RNLI lifeboats from Salcombe, Dart, Torbay, Teignmouth and Exmouth in formation 3rd March 2024

Over two days last week, Sunday 3rd and Monday 4th, Torbay’s crew, past and present, did their bit and more, to partake and celebrate with RNLI supporters, events that marked the charity’s second centenary, in the Bay and up in London.

On Sunday 3rd March, Torbay RNLI hosted a Gathering of lifeboats from all five south Devon RNLI stations; Salcombe, Dart, Torbay, Teignmouth and Exmouth. The lifeboats met off Berry Head and proceeded in convoy across the Bay and around the Breakwater in to Brixham Harbour where the Coxswains and crew disembarked at the RNLI jetty to assemble outside Torbay RNLI boat station, for a ‘Blessing of the Fleet’ led by Helen Lovell-Smith MAO-Devon of Fishermen’s Mission. In gorgeous weather, a large crowd of local supporters watched and listened to a service that included readings by Ian Barnaby and Anthony Mangnall MP.

It was the first time all lifeboats had come together in this way, and their convoy together in very close formation at almost 20 knots on this bright sunny day made for a very memorable and uplifting spectacle, and one that the local community will probably remember for many years.

The following day on Monday at 11:30am, there was a service of national commemoration at Westminster Abbey. Torbay RNLI were represented at the very heart of proceedings, with Keith Bower, retired Deputy Coxswain leading a procession down the aisle to place a silver and marble replica of the RNLI Memorial sculpture on a table at the centre of the Abbey. The Memorial carries the names of over 600 RNLI volunteers who have died saving the lives of others at sea.

Keith’s central part in the service was assigned in recognition of the Gold Medal he was awarded for rescuing all the ten crew from aboard the stricken Lyrma in a major storm, seven and half miles east-south-east of Start Point, 48 years ago, when he coxed Torbay’s Arun Class ‘Edward Bridges’ 54-03, now permanently berthed and on display at Chatham Lifeboat Museum. In all UK and Ireland, only three living members of the RNLI currently hold this, their highest award: The Gold Medal for Conspicuous Gallantry.

Four other members of Torbay RNLI joined Keith in the congregation at Westminster Abbey, including John Turner, Carol Pearson, Gary Fletcher and Ian Barnaby who was awarded a MEB in the recent New Years Honours.

Later in the day, back in Torbay, at Brixham’s All Saints church, the Torbay RNLI Crew welcomed the local community and dignitaries to our own service of commemoration.

The Crew lined the entrance as a large congregation arrived, including the Vice Lord Lieutenant, Countess of Arran, the Civic Mayor of Torbay Council, Mark Spacagna, the Chair of Brixham Town Council, Michael Roseveare and Vice Admiral Richard Ibbotson of Torbay and South Devon NHS Foundation Trust.

Helen Lovell-Smith joined by Rt Reverend James Grier, Bishop of Plymouth, led the ceremony delivering a warm, embracing and uplifting service, at the end of which, over tea and cakes, the Crew chatted at length with members of the congregation about their memories and experiences of past shouts, all under artwork from the attending schools’ pupils, which decoratively festooned the church’s walls.

The service was supported by the primary schools of ‘Brixham C of E’, ‘St Clitherows’, and ‘Furzham’, whose children helped with the collection, led much of the singing and informed the congregation what RNLI Torbay is all about by reading a series of messages respectively relating to each of the letters spelling out ‘LIFEBOAT’.

Wives and girlfriends of the Torbay Crew performed two songs. During the second, a very old and well-known sea shanty, which casts aspersions on the sobriety and good reputation of sailors, they were joined by the Crew who helped complete a rousing second chorus.

After the tea and cakes, those crew not on duty/call, joined the rest of this congregation at the Manor Inn for some refreshments and a revisiting of the second chorus of that song before heading home.

It was a fitting end to these two days of events orchestrated by Torbay RNLI to celebrate the charity’s second century of saving lives at sea.

RNLI lifeboats and crew from Salcombe, Dart, Torbay, Teignmouth and Exmouth on 3rd March 2024 for Blessing of the Fleet

RNLI/Niall Blatcher

Crowds attending Blessing of Fleet outsideTorbay RNLI boat station on 3rd March 2024

Westminster Abbey

Keith Bower, Deputy Coxswain (ret.d) Torbay RNLI leading procession at Westminster Abbey 4th March 2024
Torbay RNLI attend RNLI's service of commemoration for 200th Anniversary on 4th March 2024

Carol Pearson, RNLI Torbay

Torbay RNLI's Ian Barnaby, John Turner and Gary Fletcher at Westminster Abbey 4th March 2024
A large congregation assembles at All Saints Church Brixham for RNLI's 200th Anniversary service

RNLI/Niall Blatcher

Service at All Saints church, Brixham at 6:45pm on 4th March 2024
The Rt Reverend James Grier, Bishop of Plymouth and Vice Lord Lieutenant, Countess of Arran after the service

RNLI/Niall Blatcher

The Rt Reverend James Grier, Bishop of Plymouth and Vice Lord Lieutenant, Countess of Arran, with All Saints church warden, Lenie

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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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.