SHERINGHAM & DISTRICT BRANCH OF THE ROYAL BRITISH LEGION
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Sheringham RNLI awards to long serving station members
Three stalwarts of the Sheringham RNLI lifeboat station have been awarded Bronze and Silver Medals in acknowledgement of their dedicated service over the last few decades.
Billy Thirtle is one of Norfolk’s characters and was recently awarded the Bronze medal for his services to the Sheringham Royal National Lifeboat Institution.
His grandfather was a fisherman in and around Sheringham, and his great-grandfather rowed in the lifeboats, but despite his background and love of all things nautical, Billy's asthma prevented him from pursuing a life at sea, and he was forced to look for land based work whilst helping out on his grandfather's boat. This saw him working as cinema projectionist, taxi driver and a coffin maker in the town.
Belonging to the generations of fishing folk that originally manned the lifeboats because of their local knowledge of the sea, Billy remembers how whole families helped out. His mother, when a little girl, used to run ahead with her dad's thigh boots so her father could run quicker in his short boots the mile or so to the then boat shed at the Old Hythe and be ready for the launch, which all changed in 1936 when the new lifeboat house was built in its current location at the western end of the Promenade.
With inhalers solving the asthma issue, Billy moved from being a helper to joining the lifeboat, aged 38, after Henry ‘Joyful’ West convinced him that the local sea knowledge he’d learnt from his grandfather would be useful, and asked him to work as emergency mechanic and radio operator. Billy worked on the longest serving motorised life boat at Sheringham, The Manchester Unity of Oddfellows, and began his lifeboat career as a signalman, having learnt the skill of using flags from a near neighbour. But as he 'couldn't spell ' he went on a radio course using ship to shore contact (where they had to talk to the Great Yarmouth or Humber Coastguard who would relay messages onward) and claimed it worked well as he was 'better at talkin’.
With the rules stating that lifeboatmen could only go to sea until they were 45, Billy served his time and then engaged in numerous roles within the service of the RNLI, but his love of boats never left him; he loved working with them or on them and as a young man was always hanging around the Johnson boat builders watching and learning, and in later life he had his own clinker built sailing boat (Blakeney One Design). The skills he learnt were put to good use when Tony Sadler needed to make repairs on the old lifeboats and crab-boats acquired for the museum; his boat skills were also put to use when The Manchester Unity was brought back from Scarborough to reside in the Sheringham ‘Mo’ museum, as Billy was one of the crew that accompanied Henry ’Joyful’ West and Jack West to bring her back by sea.
A valued member of the Sheringham RNLI lifeboat committee, Billy is rightly proud of his medal and service certificates, and he has lost none of his spirit at 84 years young: he insisted his family brought him some pyjamas when on an unexpected hospital stay not so long ago, as the ones provided were green – a colour the older fishing folk believe is unlucky. ‘I mean, green – of all the colours to put me in!’
Two other crew members were recently honoured in awards at The Hurlingham Club, London: David Mann and Trevor Holsey received silver badges for their service to the Sheringham RNLI.
David joined the Sheringham RNLI lifeboat crew as a trainee in 1970, subsequently becoming full crew and then emergency mechanic. For the last five years on the crew he was the assistant mechanic until retirement in 1992, when he took on the role of Deputy Launching Authority and Station Officer, posts which he still holds today. He was awarded the Statuette in 2004 and the Silver Badge last month.
Trevor Holsey was a member of the all-weather lifeboat crew on The Manchester Unity of Oddfellows from January 1961 to May 1989 when he became 2nd Coxswain on the Lloyds 2 up to April 1992 when he retired. Subsequently he took up the role of Deputy Launching Authority from that same year and is Chair of Operations team. He was also Coxswain of the last all-weather lifeboat sailing to Lowestoft from the Sheringham station. Like David, he also has an inscribed Statuette.
Sheringham RNLI Lifeboat Day on Sunday 10 August helps round off the carnival week and offers the public the chance to see and meet the volunteer lifeboat crew before and after they display the skills required to save lives at sea. www.sheringhamlifeboat.co.uk has crew and action details.