Caister Lifeboat Coxswains  

The Caister Beach Company
1845-1872 Ben Hodds
1872-1887 Philip George
1887-1900 James Haylett Jnr
1900-1901 Aaron Haylett
1902-1903 John “Whampo” Brown
1903-1919 John “Spratt” Haylett
1919-1935 Charles Laycock
1935-1950 Joseph Woodhouse
1950-1956 James Brown
1956-1969 Jack Plummer
1969-1981 Alfred Brown
1981-1991 Benny Read
1991-2004 Richard Thurlow
2004-Present  Paul Williams

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The Caister Beach Company.

Early Salvage work.
While the lifesaving reputation of Caister is well known, it may come as something of a surprise to learn that the village’s seafaring tradition dates only from the final years of the eighteenth century. Salvage entries for Caister men started in the mid-1790s, representing the activities of a small single-boat company of ten or fifteen beachmen drawn from the ranks of the local longshoremen. At this time the village was some way from the sea and was mainly agricultural in character.
More usual salvage work also came their way.

Aberdeen Merchant of Sunderland
On 28th November, 1801, the brigantine Aberdeen Merchant of Sunderland set sail from Hull for London with a cargo of potatoes. Disaster struck suddenly as, without warning, his vessel grounded on the Outer Barber Sand. Over two hours later an exhausted crew managed to make landfall at Yarmouth. But the brigantine survived the night, much to the delight of the Caister beachmen who, boarded her and after effecting repairs they set sail and anchored her in the Roads. The reward for their good fortune was 200.64

The First Company Boat

In 1803 the name of the Caister Beach Company’s boat was recorded in the impress registers. An entry makes reference to the 17-ton yawl Assistance, we suspect the major part of their work was in the salvage field, the pilotage and ferrying applying more to the three Yarmouth yawls mentioned in the same entry.

Prince Blucher
In 1816 the company replaced its boat with a new yawl named the Prince Blucher, which was registered to eighteen men who held more or less equal shareholding. Shortly after this the company was transformed into a multi-boat beach company with an increased membership rising ultimately to forty. From the earliest surviving company accounts, it is clear that the Prince Blucher was broken up around 1841—42, for receipts from the sale of parts of her are recorded in 1842. With the destruction of the Prince Blucher, the last link with the company’s early days was severed.

The company expansion was caused by an increase in salvage work, but it was also in this period that the Winterton migrants began to make their presence felt. The first to arrive, around 1810, was Robert George. In 1815 the
Ship Inn was built for him, the first building of the nineteenth century village, on what was then the beach and still stands as a public house today. Robert George's influence was probably instrumental in bringing in further Winterton men; Samuel George, Edward George and John George between 1810 and 1820; Thomas George between 1820 and 1830; William George, Benjamin Hodds and John Haylett between 1830 and 1840; and William Hodds, Samuel Symonds, John Plummer and Humphrey Dyble between 1840 and 1850. Many of these men brought their families with them to swell the population of the fast-growing beachmen’s village.

Seafaring Experience
The superior seafaring qualities and experience that these men brought with them quickly made them a ruling elite in the Caister Beach Company. On 24th February, 1848, when the company rules were agreed, thirty-one of the forty members attended the meeting at the company shed. Of these sixteen were migrants, mainly from Winterton.

The next decade was to see a further major influx of Winterton men, who all but took over the Caister Beach Company. These included Isaiah Haylett, Aaron King, Benjamin Kettle, Jacob George,
Philip George, John George, and the most famous of them all, Jimmy Haylett, who bought a share in the company.

Caister Beach Company crew outside the lookout about 1860
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Ben "Matches" Hodds

Dangerous Work
Salvage work for the beach company during this time was not without many dangers and several tragic incidents occured. Tragedy first struck in 1874 when Isaiah’s son William was lost at sea. Isaiah lost another son, Josiah, when during a gale on 30th January, 1877, his smack Twins was sunk, with seventeen other Yarmouth smacks.

The Zephyr
Salvage work was the beachmen’s main purpose in going to sea, but before the stationing of lifeboats on the East Anglian coast they were responsible for saving hundreds if not thousands of lives in their own boats. They continued to carry out most valuable lifesaving services in the yawls long after the first lifeboats had arrived. The following incident involved the whole family and many others in Caister. At midnight on 22nd July, 1885, the yawl Zephyr was launched following the sighting of a stranded schooner on the Lower Barber Sand. The night was calm and moonlit and the crew of fifteen were joking among themselves on what, on the face of it, was a routine trip.
James Haylett, Senior, was at the helm and as the yawl neared the Barber he called out “now dear boys, keep a lookout for that old stump” referring to the mast of a stone-laden schooner, the crew of which had been saved by the Caister men some nine years earlier. The words were scarcely out of his mouth when the yawl’s port bow struck the mast and the boat was ripped open.

Loss of the Caister Yawl Zephyr - property of John Plummer

Into the water
Within two minutes the whole crew were struggling in the water. There was sufficient time for the men to cut free much of the yawl’s gear, and this proved to be the salvation of the survivors. Old Jimmy Haylett, the coxswain, supported himself on two oars; soon he found himself close by the foremast, on which were his son Aaron, William Knowles and Joseph Haylett. They kept afloat for a time, but the mast kept rolling over; Aaron moved to his father’s oars, the other two were drowned. John George, another of the crew, struck out for the shore and came across a shrimper, The Brothers, of Yarmouth. He clambered on board and then led the search for the other beachmen. First to be picked up was Robert Plummer on a grating, then one after the other, Aaron Haylett, Isaiah Haylett, George Haylett, Harry Russell, and lastly James Haylett, Senior, astride the foremast with an oar under one arm and a sett under the other. The remaining eight crewmen were drowned, and these included James’s son Frederick Haylett. Caister mourned, but the beach company ranks were quickly filled and these hardy men continued their dangerous work.’

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Philip George

Philip George outside the Old Lookout
on the beach at Caister.

A man of tremendous physical strength and leader of men.

The legendary exploits of Philip George the coxswain live on today, he was clearly a man of tremendous physical strength but also with the mind and the will to lead his crew through the most severe and dangerous of conditions. Several stories of his service remain, which are a true testament to his bravery and the respect in which he was held by his fellow crew and the beach men of Caister. It is quite amazing to consider that all this work was done with what was the most basic of survival gear compared with todays standards.

True story.
The following true story gives some impression of the difficult service given by Philip George and his crew it also serves as a further reminder that a lifeboat and its crew are at their most vulnerable when it is launched from the beach when strong winds and heavy seas prevail. The heavier boats were usually launched from the beach over skids, or skeets as they were termed in East Anglia, by the manual labour of a considerable launching party. While the crew did their utmost to haul the boat through the surf with a haul-off warp anchored offshore in deep water, the launching party would use a setting pole, a long stout spar with a crutched end, to push the stern of the boat out.
In very severe conditions, however, neither brains nor brawn could succeed in getting a boat afloat off an open beach, as the Caister beachmen found on 4th December, 1883.

Flare sighted.
It was about three in the morning when the man on watch in the Caister lookout saw a flare being burnt on board a vessel which he judged must be on the Barber Sand. Moments after the lifeboat bell which hung beneath the lookout had clanged out its message to the sleeping village the whole of the crew were down at the boat, and they and their helpers quickly had the boat at the water’s edge, where huge seas brought up by the strong nor’westerly gale were hurling themselves against the sand.

On the last skeet!
The lifeboat was on the last skeet and fourteen men were on the lee side holding her steady; Coxswain Philip George was just watching for a chance to launch, and the launchers waited only for his word. Suddenly, without warning, an immense wave rolled out of the darkness and struck the poised boat, washing her right off the skeets and forcing her several yards up the beach. The launching party hung on to the lifelines along the boat’s side and were carried along with her; by a miracle none of them was crushed by the heavy boat or washed off and drowned.

Carried overboard
Coxswain George was carried overboard by the sea, and the undertow took him into the surf. Like many of his fellows, he possessed a massive frame and powerful muscles, but he needed all his strength to fight the waves that December morning; it was only with the help of others that he staggered ashore.

Back to the skeets
It was no easy task for the launchers to get the heavy boat into position again, but they laboured on and after considerable exertions got her back on to her skeets. The crew picked up the haul-off warp, and again all was ready.
The coxswain gave the word. The launchers propelled the boat towards the surf, the crew hauled with all their might on the warp, but the seas, like walls of water toppling on to the shelving beach, beat her back Again and again they tried to get her afloat, again and again the boat was flung back on the sand by the tremendous force of the waves. Time after time the boat’s head was thrust aside by the curling breakers. Tackles were hooked to the boat’s stern to keep her to windward, but tackle after tackle broke; even new rope was no match for the power of those seas.

Forced to give up!
Eventually, after four hours of unremitting labour, the lifeboatmen and the shore party had to give up, not because they were drenched to the skin by the spray, not because they were too tired to go on, not because they accepted that the boat could not be got off in such conditions, but because the anchor on the haul-off warp had come home; instead of hauling the boat through the breakers, the crew had dragged the anchor from its position in the seabed.
The laconic record “Caister failed to launch” gives no hint of the long and bitter struggle involved in the unsuccessful attempt. And so it was many times in the days when boats had to be launched by muscle power alone, with no mechanical aids: sometimes a boat was launched only after a long, hard fight, and at other times the greatest human efforts were unavailing against the might of the sea.

The most difficult part
Quite the hardest part of many a difficult and dangerous lifeboat service was getting the lifeboat afloat and away from the shore; usually the crew were soaked to the skin and chilled to the marrow by a biting, icy wind even before the rescue work had been begun. And it was either during the launching of a boat or soon after, while the boat was still in shallow water or was crossing an inshore shoal on the way out, that most accidents occurred.

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James Haylett Jnr


James Haylett JNR and his crew aboard the Beauchamp about 1900

The crew in their oilskins and cork lifejackets.
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Aaron Haylett

Aaron Haylett was old Jimmy Haylett's third son born in 1852, he was also a survivor of the Zephyr tragedy in 1885 where several others in his family had died. Aaron took over as coxswain of the lifeboat from his older brother James Haylett JNR, whilst James remained as a crewmember on the Beauchamp.

Aaron Haylett taken from the larger image right

Aaron Haylett with his father James Haylett SNR
and son Walter Haylett the child is Walter's son Walter.

Aaron died in the Beauchamp disaster of 1901 however his son Walter Haylett - seen above, survived and went on to be awarded the RNLI silver medal.
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John “Whampo” Brown

Taken from the image below outside the Old White Shed.

John "Whampo" Brown served as coxswain for just one year before John "Spratt" Haylett took over the post. It must have been a most difficult year; following the loss of the Beauchamp, with Caister mourning the loss of so many of its brave men. John had also lost many of his friends and crewmembers that had served with him on the lifeboat. He had the job of drawing the lifeboat crew together again, building confidence and the will to continue with the proud tradition of the Caister lifeboat, following such a tremendous loss to the community. During this time it would appear that the Covent Garden III lifeboat was the only boat on station, until the Nancy Lucy arrived in 1903. John was a fisherman by trade, his livelyhood depended on his ability to catch fish and this made it difficult for him to be on station when the need arose and may have been a further reason for handing over the helm to Spratt in 1903.
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John “Spratt” Haylett


John "Spratt" Haylett was a son of Isaiah Haylett, a member of the Caister Beach Company, who settled in Casiter from Winterton. Spratt died as a result of lifeboat service to Shackleton's boat the Nimrod in 1919.

John "Spratt" Haylett 1906, on the day he received the
RNLI silver medal for bravery and the Russian
Lifesaving Medal from Czar Nicholas II.

John "Spratt" Haylett seen (above and full picture below) with a gathering

Outside the Old White Shed at Caister Beach note the
circular telescope holes.
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Silver Medals were awarded to from the left
Jack Plummer, Mr Clowes Hon Sec, Solomon Wright Brown,
John "Spratt" Haylett, James Haylett SNR and Walter Haylett .

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Charles Laycock


Charles Laycock 94,
Coxswain 1919 - 1935. Taken July 14th 1964

Charles Laycock held the post of coxswain in the years between the two world wars. The boats on station during this time were the James Leath towards the end of its service at Caister and for the most part the Nancy Lucy also nearing the end of its service. Charles Laycock would also have been coxswain when the Charles Burton came into service in 1929. He also saw the demolition of the Old Watch House see below arround 1931 ~ 32.

Nancy Lucy leaves Caister beach with the crew using the Haul off warp


Charles laycock and others at the Old Watch House see closeup right
The picture was taken on the last sunday morning before the old house
was pulled down 1931-32 ~ Information given 2003 By kind permission of
Rosie Shipp - the sister of Skipper Woodhouse MBE.
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Joseph Woodhouse


Joe Woodhouse 75, Coxswain 1935 - 1949

oseph Woodhouse, father of the legendary Skipper Woodhouse, was the skipper of a herring drifter for his living and coxswain of the Caister lifeboat until 1949. Whilst he was coxswain Joseph saw the lifeboat on station change from the last sailing lifeboat, Charles Burton, to the motor powered Jose Neville. This also entailed a move to the newly built and current lifeboat station and the use of tractor power to launch the lifeboat. His first years of service as coxswain were during the second world war and during this time he and his crew had to operate under the most dangerous and difficult conditions. Lighthouses and lightships could not operate their guiding lights and the lights in harbours were also extinguished and the casualties of war also added to the calls placed upon the lifeboat. The burden on the lifeboat station was far greater than in peacetime, where the lifeboat would need to launch to save crews of downed aircraft and several vessels which had struck mines.

Joseph onboad CHARLES BURTON with his crew which included his
son John "Skipper" Woodhouse see picture above right.
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Joe Woodhouse outside the Old White Shed on the beach note
the circular telescope opening in the window of the shed.

Coxswain onboard the CHARLES BURTON

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James Brown

James Brown was the son of Old Jimmey Haylett's daughter Sarah and Solomon Brown's son Robert Brown. James carried out the duties of crewmember in the Nancy Lucy and the Charles Burton (see picture above). He was second coxswain from 1941 until 1950 when he became the coxswain until 1956. Following this position he continued to serve in the crew under Coxswain Jack Plummer in the Royal Thames. The following newspaper stories outline some of the service he gave to the Caister Lifeboat.

Caister lifeboat at sea in bitter weather COXSWAIN CALLED FROM WHIST
Piece taken from the Eastern Evening News January 13th 1955

CAISTER lifeboatmen were at sea for more than six hours in cold weather during the night when they went to the Swedish motor vessel Nissan, which reported that she was leaking aft off Caister and needed a tug.

The lifeboat stood by the vessel, relayed messages from her to the coastguards, and then escorted her to Yarmouth. There she was taken in tow by the tug Richard Lee Barber, and both ships entered the harbour early today.
Coxswain J. H. Brown, of the Caister lifeboat, was M.C. at a Council Hall whist drive for the Caister Darby and Joan Club when the maroons sounded. He left to take out the lifeboat, and Mr. A. E. King, chairman of the Darby and Joan Club, took over as M.C.
Temperatures were well below freezing point when the lifeboat was launched and remained low. Mr. Brown got home about 3.30 am, but, like his crew, was at work as usual today.

‘Not First Time’

Mrs. Brown said: “He did not say much about it, but it must have been bitterly cold.” She added: “It’s not the first time he has been called from a whist drive to go out in a lifeboat.”
The Nissan left Yarmouth Harbour just before 7.30 last evening and sent up flares off Caister just before nine o’clock. Her master (Capt. Johansen) said when his vessel was moored at the Bollard Quay in Yarmouth harbour:
‘We tell the coastguards that we require a tug and the lifeboat stands by until she arrives. We are not in any big danger.”
The Nissan was on her way to the Firth of Forth after discharging a cargo of Swedish timber at Yarmouth. She is just under 400 gross tons and is registered at Halmstad. A pilot went out from Yarmouth to help in her return to the harbour early today.

Caister coxswain to retire LIFEBOATMAN FOR 42 YEARS
Piece taken from the Eastern Evening News March 23rd 1956

THE END of this month will see the close of another chapter in the history of Caister Lifeboat, a station whose boats, in the 99 years since it was taken over by the R.N.L.I., have saved 1764 lives (and any member of the Caister crew will tell you that that is more than any other station in the British Isles can claim).

Having passed the retiring age, Mr. J. H. (Jimmy) Brown will re-linquish the position of coxswain which he has held for just over six years. He will be succeeded by the present bowman, Mr. J. H. (Jack) Plummer. Mr. Alfred Brown will continue as second-coxswain, while the new bowman will be Mr. Norford Brown, nephew of Coxswain Jimmy Brown.
Both the new and retiring coxswains come from families with a proud record of lifeboat service Mr. Brown was preceded in the Caister boat by his grandfather, father and representatives of other branches of his family. He himself first became a member of the crew 42 years ago. He was second coxswain from 1941 until becoming coxswain in January 1950
Although working in Yarmouth he is foreman ran-sacker for Bloomfields. Ltd.. the boat owners Mr. Brown’s interests are in Caister. Like Mr. Plummer he is a member and a past chairman of the parish council, and he has helped many charitable causes by organising whist drives and dances.

Many a Dash
More than once while M.C. at a whist drive he has organised Mr. Brown has had to dash for the lifeboat shed to take his crew to a vessel in distress. Since he became coxswain, the Caister life boat has made 40 service launches and saved 27 lives. Mr. Brown will be the
third ex coxswain still living in the village, the others being Mr Charles Laycock (coxswain 1919- 1935) and Mr J Woodhouse (coxswain 1935-1950). whose son Mr J. (“Skipper”) Woodhouse is the present chief motor mechanic.

Lifeboatman for 50 years . . . Harvests
Piece taken from the Eastern Evening News August 25th 1964

Fifty years a Lifeboatman —and still willing, at the age of 69, to risk his life to save others— is Mr. Jimmy Brown, of 27, Tan Lane, Caister. When I met him on his Caister allotment, he was digging with all the energy and strength of a man of half his years.
“It’s no good giving up work— you only die too soon,” he said smilingly. “I thought when I retired I should have nothing to do—but now I find I’ve plenty to do. and that’s how I like it.”
Mr BROWN, coxswain of the Caister boat for 6 years and a boat’s officer for 14, had an ambition to be a member of the crew when the 1800th life was saved by the Caister station. He was among those on board the new The Royal Thames when she made her first emergency launching to rescue a holiday family in difficulties off Horsey.
This rescue brought the number of lives saved by the Caister station from 1799 to 1804 . . . and the milestone was passed within a day of Mr. Brown’s fiftieth anniversary of joining the lifeboat crew.
BUT he has no intention yet of retiring. “If I keep on feeling as I do now, I’m fit enough and will carry on as long as they want me to,” he said. ‘Our new boat is comfortable and not too difficult to handle, and I don’t see why I should pack tip just yet.” Caister lifeboat has a nice blend of experience and youth at the present time, and no shortage of volunteers. Said Mr. Brown: “I don’t think for one moment there will ever be a shortage of people available and willing to do the job. We have six promising youngsters now all ready to jump in as soon as anyone jumps out—and they all seem as keen as anyone ever was.”
WITH all the changes that have come over Caister, the life boat tradition is still splendidly strong. It is interesting to see people arrive in Caister from other places and in varying occupations, and be gradually and willingly caught up in the lifeboat service, either in the crew or as helpers. Long may the tradition continue.

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The Four Coxswains

From left Jack Plummer 60,1956-1969, Jimmy Brown 69, 1950 - 1956,
Joe Woodhouse 75, 1935 - 1949, Charles Laycock 94, 1919 - 1935.
Taken July 14th 1964 - the handing over of ROYAL THAMES.

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Jack Plummer

Jack Plummer was a lifeboatman for 30 years before becoming the coxswain of Caister lifeboat, his father was a former second coxswain. From 1950-55 he was owner of the Yarmouth herring drifter Rosebay. Before which he netted boats for various owners. He was also a member of Caister Sea Cadets committee and a school manager.

Jack Plummer aboard his drifter ROSEBAY

In oilskins he is just another working member of the famous Caister-on Sea, Norfolk, life-boat crew. But underneath his sea coat is the clerical collar of the parish priest. The Rev. John Gabriel Markham, Rector of Caister, always answers the call when the Jose Neville puts to sea on a mercy mission. The Rector goes through launching drill here with the Coxwain and Chief Mechanic, Jack "Skipper" Woodhouse. Back from a recent all-night vigil helping a fishing-boat in distress, the Rector stepped off the life-boat just in time to take an early service. 1959

Reported by Eastern Evening News Thursday 22nd August 1963
Caister lifeboat Jose Neville standing by the grounded Belgian trawler Ixous off Yarmouth— a picture taken from an Anglian Air Charter aircraft.
With Caister lifeboat and the tug Richard Lee Barber standing by, a Belgian trawler, the Ixous, refloated today after more than seven hours aground on Scroby Sands, about two miles off Yarmouth. Her position was sighted at about 3.30 this morning by the coastguard, who alerted Caister lifeboat and continued to keep the Ixous under observation. The lifeboat was later launched under Coxswain Jack Plummer and stood by the Ixous for several hours, being joined by the Richard Lee Barber, which put out from Yarmouth harbour.
Lifeboatmen helped the trawlermen to lay an anchor away from the sand bank on which the Ixous was eventually able to pull herself clear. She lay in Yarmouth Roads for a while checking steering gear. After a displaced chain had been replaced, she continued for Ostend.

Jack Plummer and Alfie Brown preparing to launch
ROYAL THAMES Lifeboat Day July 14th 1964.

The picture shows Mr McAvoy with Coxswain Jack Plummer
and members of the crew admiring the binoculars. These were presented to Mr McAvoy by Mr E.D. Stogden, Eastern District Inspector of Lifeboats on behalf of the RNLI to mark his services to Caister lifeboat.

Note:- Mr Stogden is also the designer of the proposed new Caister Lifeboat.

Service to Gloamin' N 4th December 1960

CAISTER lifeboat was launched in rough seas yesterday to go to the aid of a 41-year-old 18-ton fishing boat after Yarmouth Coastguard look-out had seen. distress. flares. The engine at the boat, the Gloamin’ N, broke down as she was being sailed from Hull to the Thames by two young journalists and a professional seaman. She ran into trouble north-east of Scroby-Elbow buoy with gale force winds blowing and high seas running. A rough weather watch was being kept and a coastguard said afterwards that the boat had been kept under observation on her voyage down the coast.

Out of the perils of the storm after a tow at sea lasting over two hours
the Gloamin'N follows Caister Lifebaot to moorings near Yarmouth fishwharf.

Broke Away Twice

The lifeboat took the Gloamin’ N in tow and took. her into Yarmouth Harbour. During the tow. which lasted more than two hours, the Gloamin N broke away twice, and part of her gunwale was pulled off. When she was safely moored near the Fishwharf at Yarmouth. her owner, Mr. Robert Rodwell, a 25 - year old newspaper features editor, or 56. Popes Grove. Twickenham, told a reporter that he had bought the boat at Hull, where he had her converted into a home for his wife and baby daughter With the news editor of his paper, 24-year-old Mr. A. S. Nicolatta, of 36. Stangate Mansions. S.E.l, and a professional sailor. Mr. Bob Smith. Of Hull, he sailed for the Thames on Friday evening.
The boat ran into heavy seas on tier way south, but behaved “magnificently” until, just north of Yarmouth Roads. the engine failed

Mr Rodwell (left), owner of the Gloamin'N, shaking hands
with the coxswain of Caister lifebaot (Mr Jack Plummer)
after landing at Yarmouth

Started to Drift

We started to drift out to sea so we tried signalling to ships near us with a torch.” he said. “That didn’t have any result so we fired the distress signals “There were ships all about us some only two or three hundred yards away, but they just didn’t take any notice, though we fired six flares.” The coxswain of the lifeboat, Mr. Jack Plummer. described the job of towing the boat, a former seine- netter, as “tricky.’ with the fact that she was larger than the lifeboat adding to the difficulties caused by the high seas.

Service to the Trawler Kirkley 8th April 1963


CAISTER lifeboat rescued eight men on Monday, as their rubber dinghy drifted near Scroby Sands. They were the crew of the trawler Kirkley which had run aground on the bank — scene of many shipwrecks.
Later, only the bridge and a mast of the Kirkley — of Lowestoft — were reported to be showing. She was at an angle of 45 degrees.
But the crew, six of them Lowestoft men, were safe at Yarmouth Shipwrecked Sailors’ Home. They shook hands with Coxswain Jack Plummer and the lifeboat crew when they were landed at the Fish Wharf.
Red flares fired from the Kirkley, whose radio was put out of action when she grounded, were seen from the shore at Caister about seven o’clock. About 40 minutes later the crew had been picked up by the lifeboat from broken water near the sandbanks as they drifted dangerously on the flood tide.

Aground and awash on Scroby- the Lowestoft trawler Kirkley from which the
crew of eight was rescued.


The trawler’s 31-year-old skipper, Mr. Charles Page, said he was not on watch when the trawler grounded.
He said : “I was in my bunk. I jumped up and stopped the engines, which were still going full ahead. There was no bottom showing on the echo- sounder.
“We got two pumps going and tried to get her astern. We dropped the anchor because there was a flood tide, and we got a chain of buckets, but it was all no good.”
When they tried to launch the lifeboat, he continued, the ship heeled over and punched a hole in the lifeboat side.
They launched one of the rubber rafts and got away on that.
Mr. Page said: “The lee deck was awash and water was up to the top bunks in the cabin. The only thing that kept us afloat was the fact that she was grounded.”


Ray Walters of Kessingland one of the rescued crew of the trawler Kirkley,
Thanks coxswain Jack plummer of the Caister lifeboat.

Other Lowestoft men in the crew of the 111 gross ton Kirkley, wooden-built and 17 years old, were David Whitham, David Jones, James Barnard and Alf Butcher.
Others in the crew were Raymond Waters, William Potter
Coxswain J. R. Plummer, of Caister lifeboat, said the lifeboat was making for the trawler at the north end of Scroby when a coaster directed her to the rubber dinghy, in broken water several hundred yards to the south of the trawler.
The lifeboat went alongside and took the eight men from the dinghy, which the lifeboat towed into Yarmouth harbour. Said another lifeboatman: “ They wer very grateful to us. Some were soaked and the dinghy had pleanty of water in it. It was in a tricky position.


This is one of the smartest rescues in the Yarmouth and Caister area for several years. Although it was calmer ashore on Monday, the north east wind having moderated, conditions near Scroby were rough. The eight men were given baths and meals at Yarmouth Shipwrecked Sailors’ Home. The Kirkley is managed by Boston Deep Sea Fisheries. She had a 30-kit catch made during her 11 days at sea and was returning to Lowestoft. The Leith motor ship Reed Warbler stood by the trawler until the lifeboat arrived. On Scroby, towards the north end, is the wreck of another trawler — the Ostend boat Yarmouth which went aground in December 1951.

Caister’s lifeboats already hold the proud record of having saved more lives than any other lifeboat station on the British coast.

Mr. ,Jack Plummer, cox’n of the lifeboat. said afterwards. The chances of refloating her are pretty slim. She is a wooden vessel and the bottom is probably stove in.” On Tuesday a salvage expert went out to the trawler.

Service to the trawler Loch Lorgan 13th December 1963

In a SLEET - STORM, in the early hours of this morning the crew of the grounded Lowestoft trawler Loch Lorgan are landed at Gorleston after being rescued by the Caister Lifeboat Jose Neville.

The Loch Lorgan aground at Yarmouth 13th December 1963
a service for which the coxswain Jack Plummer was awarded
the bronze medal.

Caister Lifeboatmen receive award

The eight members of the crew of Caister lifeboat on Tuesday each received an illuminated vellum for bravery in a dramatic sea rescue in which the coxswain gained the R.N.L.I.’s bronze medal.
The presentations were made by Mr. M. C. McAvoy, secretary of the Caister station, at the annual meeting of Caister Life-boat Ladies’ Guild. Also presented were monetary tokens of the Institution’ appreciation of what Mr. McAvoy described as “a wonderful job of work.”

Jack Plummer Second right on the occasion of receiving his bronze medal
in London with Coxswains from other lifeboats.

During the night of December 13th last year the lifeboat rescued the crew of the stricken Lowestoft trawler Loch Lorgan in raging seas and gale-force winds.
Mr. J. R. Plummer, the coxswain, received the Institution’s medal on April 7th from Princess Marina. The men who received the awards were Mr. Plummer, Mr. Alfred Brown, Mr. Roland (Benny) Read, Mr. David Woodhouse, Mr. Jimmy Brown, Mr. Harry Pascoe. Mr. Geoffrey Codman and Mr. Fred King.


Service to the cruser Cairnbin 22nd August 1964

Two MEN were baling out water, at one time nearly three feet deep, as they waited in their 30 ft. cabin cruiser Cairnbin for help while off Winterton late on Saturday night. They were taken in tow by Caister lifeboat and brought safely into Yarmouth harbour at 2.30 on Sunday morning.
Lifeboatmen helped in baling out during the nine-mile tow. After arrival in harbour the Cairnbin was pumped dry by men of Yarmouth Fire Brigade.

Second rescue

It was the second rescue by the new Caister lifeboal Royal Thames. and it was on successive. Sundays that she towed a casualty into the safety of Yarmouth harbour.
Comdr. V. Ford, R.N.R., and C.P.O. A. Flenshall, both from Chatham, were taking the Cairnbin from Boston to Chatham when they ran into trouble. The engine broke down as she started taking water through a propeller shaft gland. “Water came in and we tried to stop it, but the pump wouldn’t work,” said Comdr Ford. “Then we started baling with everything we had. At one time the water was between 2 and three feet deep. I tried to get someone to take a message in Morse, and when that had no result I fired a flare.” The Coastguards were informed, a special watch was set up at Winterton and Caister lifeboat put to sea under Coxswain Jack Plummer.

Picture shows the lifeboat arriving in harbour with the cruiser in tow.

Helped to bale out

“She had a sea anchor over and was drifting when we came up with her.” said Coxswain Plummer. “We took her in tow and put a chap aboard. He helped to bale out but after a while he started flashing a light and called for more help. We put two more men aboard her and they managed to keep the water down. If they stopped for ten minutes there was three inches more water in again.”

Comdr. Ford gratefully acknowledged the lifeboatmen’s help. “A real fine job,” he said.


The following is an extract from Great Yarmouth Mercury March 19th 1982 Written by Steve Snelling.


JACK PLUMMER, Caister character supreme, was the last in the long line of RNLI coxswains. When he retired in 1969, a tradition of service went with him. Now 77, and living in peaceful retirement a stone’s throw from the Caister lifeboat station he served so long, he still embodies the simple sense of duty which has characterised successive generations of. lifeboatment.


At the station immortalised by the crewmen who never turned back, he added his own proud boast. For it is on record that Jack Plummer NEVER refused to launch. No matter what the conditions he put duty, honour and pride before all other dangers. As a local politician he steered a none too dissimilar course. His own brand of electioneering is a part of Caister folklore. But for as long as local folk remember and talk about the exploits of the intrepid lifeboatmen who set out on their missions of mercy from the tall grey shed in the dunes, Jack Plummer’s name will live on. This week the Mercury pays its own tribute to one of Caister’s greatest lifeboat leaders


LIFEBOAT hero Jack Plummer hasn’t known many moments of fear in his life. As a cox’n he won the bronze medal for bravery. But his biggest worry came when he had to tell his wife that he had been voted cox’n. He recalled: “I was scared stiff of what she’d say. I daren’t do it at first.” His wife, Thursa. who died some years ago, never liked his being a member of the lifeboat crew. Jack recalled: “She told me that she wouldn’t marry me until I’d left the crew. “But in the end she came to accept it. It was always a worry to her, but she grew to live with it.” When the cox’n’s job came up. Jack thought twice about it because of his wife’s reaction. But he claimed somewhat mutely: “I was pushed into it.” He was 52 when he took on the extra burdens and responsibilities of skippering the lifeboat. And he held the job until the RNLI closed the station down in 1969. By then Jack had already served five years past the official retirement age — not bad for someone who quit his fishing career because of a slipped disc in 1955.

Jack and his crew
Hover the mouse cursor over to see the name of each individual.

FRIDAY, December 13th, 1963, shivered into life with the clatter of hail-stones. Whipped up by gale force winds, they pounded the big red brick house built on the outer limits of Caister’s bleak coastline. Across the dunes, the icy sea foamed with rage as it crashed against the frozen shore. It was a night ripe for disaster. Suddenly, a light flicked on at the seafront house. Inside, two voices crackled across a telephone line. Friday the 13th was barely 30 minutes old as Jack Plummer, retired fisherman and the coxwain of Caister’s lifeboat, rushed across the clinging sand. Still ringing in his ears were the words of the coastguard.


And even today, 20 years after the skipper of the stricken trawler Loch Lorgan fired his distress rockets from the Scroby Sands, those words still rankle. Jack recalls: “He asked me if I was going to launch.” The tone is that of a man who has been personally affronted. “I said ‘of course I am’” It wasn’t so much a heroic gesture as a matter of duty... and personal pride. For Jack Plummer duty has always been clearly defined. Born into a lifeboatman’s family 77 years ago, there has never been any question about risks. The folklore entwining the rugged rescuers of old has been ingrained in him so much so that it has become a part of him. He was still a toddler when his father performed a feat of heroism that saved the lives of five Russian fishermen and earned for himself the RNLI silver medal for bravery and the Russian Lifesaving Medal from Czar Nicholas II.

Robert Plummer - Click to see the full picture!

It was a natural step for him to follow his father into the lifeboat. There was never any heart-searching, never any questioning. “I remember just hopping aboard one day,” he recalls. “I was about 17 and I can still see the old men’s faces glaring at me. “You see in those days you had to be voted in to the crew. And they didn’t take too kindly to me breaking the rules.” It never particularly bothered him. He has never been frightened to defy the odds or speak his own mind. In fact, throughout his long life he has shown a remarkable penchant for doing both. For Jack Plummer has always been his own man, both as a lifeboatman and a local politician.

As cox’n of the Caister lifeboat he refused to apply for new sea charts. “I didn’t see any point in it,” he - explained, “because by the time they arrived they were always out of date.” As a parish district and county councillor, he stubbornly resisted all attempts to make him sell himself to the people of Caister. They wanted him to canvass. But he never did. And what’s more the people of Caister never stopped voting for him. He delights in the legend which persists to this day concerning his election day successes. “It was always said,” he smiles, “that you could put up a goat in Caister and call it Plummer and it would be voted in.”

His own political philosophies were evidently close to the hearts of his village folk. He won countless seats under the Conservative banner, but - typically he accepted the party only on his own terms. Never once during his long career did he agree to accept a Tory whip. And when Sir Tony Fell, MP for Yarmouth, made the mistake of asking him to canvass on his behalf, he found an answer that was as blunt as it was typical. “I’m not going to go out canvassing for you,” he told his parliamentary representative, “when I’ve never canvassed for myself in my life.”


It was that kind of stubborn defiance which carried him across the thin stretch of beach to the storm-battered lifeboat shed on that cold December night 19 years ago. No one would have questioned a decision not to risk the lives of himself and his crew by refusing to launch the Jose Neville into the raging sea. It was well known that the 30 horse power engines struggled to ride the swell.

Worse still was the absence of the first engineer who was away on a course learning about the Neville’s successor which was due to take over in a matter of weeks.
But Jack never even considered the possibility of rejecting the trawler’s plea for help. Lives were in danger and come hell or high water the Caister lifeboat was going to save them.
Soon after launching they faced their first major problem. Jack recalls: “The easterly gale made it impossible to get on the shore side of the trawler. It would have just blown us further away. “We had td take a gamble and edge round the south end of the bank, between the Scroby Sands and the Caister Shoal.” Skilfully he managed to bring the Jose Neville alongside the grounded Loch Lorgan. And there he stayed, despite the storm-tossed seas and the sale-force winds which were buffeting his small vessel. Held together by a single strand of rope, rescuer and victim bumped and banged against one another. One by one the seven-man crew of the trawler leapt for their lives aboard the lifeboat. But not before one towering wave had crashed over the Jose Neville.

Jack was gripping the wheel when it struck. “It caught me right in the back of the neck! and crushed me against the wheel. “I’d never known anything like it. The whole canopy was filled. And in front of me! just caught sight of my engineer’s head. It was the only part of him that wasn’t submerged.” Fortunately the water soon cleared ... and then a new drama began. “We had to pull away against the wind without going aground and without being turned over,” Jack recalls. “It was a difficult job for any vessel. But with our 30 horse power engines I wasn’t even sure if we’d make it. “I just said open her up and hoped for the best. Luckily, it worked and we slid away. I remember saying to my engineer ‘the Lord’s on our side tonight.’”

In the aftermath of that daring December rescue, 69-year-old former cox’n Jimmy Brown, a man with 50 years service behind him, would remember it as the “toughest I’ve ever known.” Jack Plummer called it his “best and worst” And he was happy to leave it at that. But his RNLI commanders thought differently. They called him to London and pinned their bronze medal for bravery on his chest


Today, that’s all history. It is over a decade since Jack retired as the last RNLI cox’n of the Caister station He lives peacefully in the same red brick house that he hurriedly left in the dead of night 19 years ago to embark on his epic rescue mission. His bronze medal and British Empire Medal are tucked away in a box alongside his father’s bravery awards., He rarely wears them. “As far as I’m concerned,” he said: “I only did what anyone else would have done “You don’t think anything about the risks. And I see it like this: if I was a seaman aboard ship in trouble I would like to think somebody would come to my assistance.”

Tradition and duty echo in every last sentiment. Twelve years away from the lifeboat station that was his life has changed him precious little. A stone’s throw away the sea gently laps against the sandy shore. “It’s hard to imagine it cutting up; rough on days like these,” he says. “Of course I miss the old days a bit. You can’t go through all that and not miss it. “But it’s nice to know when the telephone rings on a stormy night that it’s not going to be another Loch Lorgan....”

extract from EDP Saturday February 2nd 1985

CAISTER lifeboat hero Mr. Jack Plummer has died. He was 80.

The last of the seaside station’s RNLI coxswains he won the institution’s Bronze Medal for gallantry over 20 years ago.
Last night one of the crewmen on the 1963 mission that brought him the award described him as a “great man and a very good coxswain.”
On that night in 1963, Caister lifeboat rescued seven men from the Lowestoft trawler Loch Lorgan which had run aground on Scroby Sands.

Awarded BEM

Mr. Plummer was born into a family steeped in lifeboat tradition. His father and three other Caister lifeboatmen had won RNLI Silver Medals for daring rescues 57 years earlier.
His lifeboat service, and his work for the community in many spheres, brought him a British Empire Medal in the 1969 birthday honours.

There were two major aspects to his service to the community — his courage and seamanship as a life- boatman for nearly 40 years and his dogged work for the people of his areas as their representative in three tiers of local government — parish, district, borough and county councils.

Mr. Plummer joined the lifeboat crew in 1930 and was bowman for 20 years until becoming coxswain in 1956. It was a position he held until the RNLI pulled out in 1969, to be replaced by the present Caister Volunteer Lifeboat Service.

He reached the normal retirement age of 60 in July, 1964, when the station’s new lifeboat, the Royal Thames, also destined to be last there under the RNLI flag, arrived. The institution, however, extended his service annually until the station closed.

His outstanding lifeboat call to the Loch Lorgan came in 1963. Mr. Benny Read, the current coxswain of the volunteer lifeboat who was with him that night, recalled: “It was a terrible night and a very difficult rescue, but he didn’t bother about it at all.


“We had three or four lines Out because they kept breaking. There was a heavy easterly swell but we got in close enough for a crew to jump on board.” At least once the lifeboat was swamped but they were able to go astern of the trawler and reach safety.

His long service on Caister Parish Council included a term as chair man. He became a member of the old Blofield and Flegg Rural District Council in 1956 and later, with the reorganisation of local government, joined Yarmouth Borough Council from which he retired in 1980. He also represented Caister on Norfolk County Council.

In the early years after the war, Mr. Plummer was closely associated with the Yarmouth fishing industry.
Until he became owner of the herring drifter Rosebay, in 1950, he had netted boats for various owners. His interest in the sea was further illustrated by his membership of Caister Sea Cadets committee.

Mr. Plummer had also been a member of the East Anglian Regional Hospital Board and was the voluntary transport officer for the area for the Norfolk Hospital Car Service for a number of years.

He was also on the East Norfolk Valuation Panel and a member of the Eastern Gas Consultative Council, and was a school governor and manager.

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Alfred Brown

Alfie (Mabby) Brown

The Greek Ship “Sea Diamond” 11th January 1978

One of the more memorable occasions that the crew will never forget was in 1978. On the 11th January the glass had been falling all day, yet it was a bright and sunny afternoon with hardly a breath of wind until about 4 pm when the wind swung round to the north-east and steadily increased until gusts were reaching over 80 miles per hour. There was a spring tide and flood warnings were the order of the day. Fishing boats that had been pulled high and dry were either pounded by the gigantic rollers or blown about by the wind. They were strewn along the high water mark on the beach. The air had mixed with the water and a frothy spume had blown about like dirty washing-up lather. The sleet and rain stung the hands and face, and when this stopped the sand which had quickly dried in the wind was also airborne. No time to be abroad, not even to see the state of the tide. From a layman’s point of view, it would seem an impossible task to launch a lifeboat in such tremendous seas.

At the Coastguard Station sited on the Pier Head at Gorleston, the heavy seas were sweeping over the decking. Looking eastwards the Coastguards on duty could see through the spray to the wild windswept wastes. Huge waves piled up high and crashed down on the Pier in an attempt to sweep the whole structure into the raging water. The radio was flashing “Mayday” calls for all areas further north but shipping in this particular area seemed quiet.

About 2 am on the 12th two “Mayday” calls were received from the Greek Ship “Sea Diamond” which gave its position as 1 miles south east of Lowestoft. The Lowestoft Lifeboat was summoned and under its experienced coxswain, Tommy Knot, put to sea within minutes of the call. At the same time the Gorleston Lifeboat under its Coxswain, Richard Hawkins, also put to sea. The waves were so high that to search by radar was impossible and when a parachute flare was fired, the wind was so strong that the flare could not gain height but was blown sideways. It was then that the engines of the Gorleston Boat began to falter, first one stopped and then the other. The Lowestoft Boat left the search area and went to the assistance of the Gorleston Boat. Back at the search headquarters at the Pier Head at Gorleston the messages were received with some alarm as the only two RNLI Boats which were easy to get away, due to being berthed in harbours, were not going to be able to carry out the search as one was helping the other.

All the RNLI boats further north were unable to launch because of storm damage. There was only one other boat left, the Caister Lifeboat. The problem here was that the boat would have to be launched from the open beach as usual and with such heavy seas running, it would be very nearly impossible to get the boat away. It was about 2 am that the phone rang in Coxswain “Mabby” Brown’s home and he was advised of the situation. He quickly dressed and through the wind, rain and sand, made his way to the Lifeboat Shed on the beach where he fired two maroons to summon his crew and the tractor driver. They arrived still scrambling into their clothes and viewed the various items of wreckage strewn around the Boathouse door and the mountain of sand over which the Boat would have to be manoeuvred before being able to launch. The Coxswain advised the men of the position and asked them if they would launch — to which they all agreed. When they had got the Boat out of the Shed the wind was so strong that it rocked both the Boat and its carriage madly when it was broadside on. It was turned head to wind to prevent any accident. It was clearly seen that it was out of the question to try and launch directly opposite the Shed, so an attempt was made further south. Hampered by their heavy sea boots and clothing plus the stinging and blinding sand, the rain and the violent wind, they again and again tried to get the boat afloat and each time they met with failure. However at 4.15 am and after hauling the boat for about 2 miles along the shore they finally achieved the seemingly impossible. At last they got away. If a 500-ton boat could founder what chance had a small boat?

The Boat made its way south in those raging seas and the Coast- guards were surprised to hear a cheerful voice saying, “Hello Gorleston Coastguards, Caister Lifeboat is on its way to the search area”. During this time the Gorleston Boat had managed to get both of its engines running again. The three Lifeboats were unable to see one another although only separated by a hundred yards of water. The Boats behaved like wild things, throwing the crews about unmercifully. Whatever there was to hang onto, they hung onto. One of the helicopters which had been called in to assist in the search reported seeing lights to the east of their position and the Lifeboats made their way out to sea to commence looking for these lights. Dawn was late this day and the helicopter reported sighting wreckage further south.

Again the Lifeboats turned and another helicopter that had joined in the search reported an overturned ship’s lifeboat. The Caister Boat was soon on the scene and they righted the overturned boat but found nobody underneath. On they went and then one of the crew saw a man in the water on his back, supported by a lifejacket. The Lifeboat was manoeuvred alongside the man, no mean effort considering the seas that were running, and one of the crew leaned over and lifted the body of the young man aboard. He was dressed only in a thin pullover, nothing else. It was all too clear that he was dead, so the crew wrapped the body in a blanket.

About this time a helicopter saw the upturned hull of a large vessel in the area where the search had originated. The search HQ was informed of the sad find by the Caister Boat and as there were six other people unaccounted for, the Lifeboats once again turned in the direction of the stricken vessel. Then one of the helicopters reported sighting a body in the water and recovered it. Soon after, the second helicopter reported a similar find. The search had to continue although by now all hope had gone of recovering anyone still alive. One of the bodies seen by the helicopter was found by the side of an overturned life raft, clutching one of the life-lines in a death grip.

The helicopters flew their finds to Lowestoft and the Caister Boat was directed to go there as well. At 2.15 pm she arrived at Lowestoft Harbour with her sad cargo which was left with the Lowestoft Police.

Hot soup and tea were provided for the crew.

Plans were made for the Shirley Jean Adye to make her way to Yarmouth harbour and they set forth homeward. However when she was just to the north of Lowestoft the search H.Q. directed them to return to Lowestoft to pick up some divers who would examine the sunken wreck to see that no-one was trapped in the hull. The Caister Boat returned, picked up the divers and made her way to the wreck but the seas, although having subsided somewhat, were far too rough to enable swimmers to operate, so once again the search was called off and the Lifeboat finally returned to Lowestoft. All lifeboatmen risk their lives and they know the risks when they join the Service but the Caister crew had been to sea for all those hours with the knowledge that they would receive nothing for the work they had done that day. The consideration in their minds was that another mariner was in trouble and needed their skilled assistance in one of the worst seas in living memory.
Service to the Winaway 11th August 1959
extract from Yarmouth Mercury Friday 15th

BUT for the prompt arrival of Caister lifeboat the Lowestoft fishing vessel Winaway would have been swept on to the sand bank where in May this year the Kastor ran aground with the loss of two lives.
That was the opinion of the Winaway’s skipper, 41-year-old Mr. “Steve” Stephenson, when the lifeboat reached Gorleston quay on Monday afternoon with the Winaway is tow.
Winaway (LT478), a 52-footer that had been line-fishing off the Dudgeon, had engine failure about a mile off shore on her return to Lowestoft, which she left on Saturday.
The anchor was laid immediately. “But it just would not hold,” said Mr. Stephenson. “The boat was jumping around, there was a lot of swell, and we were driving in towards the mid-Caister buoy. If those chaps had not come when they did we would have ended up where the Kastor was.”
Mr. Stephenson said he doubted ii a rescue boat from Yarmouth harbour could have reached Win away in time. (When Caister life boat is withdrawn from service and the station closed, as planned, Gorleston lifeboat will cover that area.)
Three red flares were sent up from Winaway when the anchor dragged and these were spotted from the shore.
They were also seen by the Yarmouth pleasure boat Norwich Belle, packed with holidaymakers. She was reported to have investigated, but by that time the life boat was on her way to the Winaway and the Norwich Belle was able to continue her trip.
On board Winaway were Mr. Stephenson and the crew of two, with a passenger. They had been line fishing for skate and had “a decent catch.”
The second coxswain Mr. Alfred “Mabby" Brown, was in charge of Caister lifeboat.

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Benny Read

Benny Read was Coxswain for over 10 years and before that, 2nd Coxswain and a crew member for over 35 years. He came from a family whose history had been linked to the lifeboat since its formation in 1845. In fact, his ancestor Phillip George was Coxswain from 1872-1 887 and his brother Billy Read retired in 1996 as 2nd Coxswain after over 30 years service. Benny lived near the station at the seaward end of Beach Road. After leaving Caister School, he was first an apprentice butcher before his love of the sea drew him into herring fishing, where he sailed in the drifter “Rosebay” for
Jack Plummer, another former Coxswain of the lifeboat. For many years he operated a fish and chip shop at Newport near Hemsby while fishing from his own boat the “Eileen Summer” in the winter. In the early 1980’s, he returned full-time to his beloved fishing and the sea. Benny Read was a great character, always laughing and cracking jokes, a natural leader of men, a man who knew no fear. During his time in the lifeboat he was awarded the RNLI vellum for bravery twice firstly as bowman of the lifeboat “JOSE NEVILLE” when saving crew of the “Loch Lorgan” and again as Coxswain of the “SHIRLEY JEAN ADYE” on 18th November 1986, when eight men were rescued from the “Seaforth Conqueror” which was aground on the Scroby Sands in gale force winds. Benny had also played a major part in helping to carry on the Caister Station after the RNLI decided to close it in 1969.

Extract taken from "Home From the Sea" Written by John Cannell

The Service to Seaforth Conqueror November 1986
TEN seamen were rescued from a storm-lashed ship this week in probably the worst seas off Yarmouth for 32 years. The supply vessel Seaforth Conqueror was forced on to Scroby Sands on Wednesday after trying to anchor in 60 mph winds. Gorleston and Caister lifeboats battled through raging water to lift the men to safety from the stricken ship.
Caister lifeboat coxswain Benny Read said: “They are the worst seas I have experienced on an’ sand bank for 32 years.
“She was cracking and snapping away against the side of the ship and I am not sure what damage was done. It was very violent out there.
At one stage Gorleston lifeboat hit the bottom as Coxswain Richard Hawkins fought to control her in less than 10 ft of water. “The sea was breaking all round the ship when we got there, It was very confused sea. we had our work cut out to get them off,” he said.
Seaforth Conqueror master Peter Coull said: “We were trying to anchor in Yarmouth Roads for the night. The wind and sea just pushed us on to the sandbank. It just happened so quickly.”

Captain Peter Coull

Caister lifeboat lands the rescue crew
The 221 ft ship had been chartered to tow a rig to a new position. The rig move had been postponed due to the weather. reported the Aberdeen-based owners, Seaforth Maritime.
Most of the men on board were from Scotland. One Yarmouth member was Mr Lennie Barnes. a member of the Caister lifeboat! “There was no panic really,” he said. “I was down in the engine room when it happened. We were stuck firm.” Yarmouth coastguards reported that the winds were Force 10 south westerly at the time. Later Caister lifeboat took the crew back to the ship and, after depth soundings. she was refloated. ‘Skipper’ Woodhouse, of Caister lifeboat, said that 50 years ago she went to the adjacent sandbank to rescue Mr Coull’s father, grandfather and two uncles from a stranded drifter!
Royal Visit
A year after the appeal was launched for a replacement for the Shirley Jean Adye, HRH Prince Charles the Prince of Wales, visited the station on 23rd April, 1988. The “Shirley Jean Adye” was at her best. Benny Read and the crew were presented to the Prince and then Benny invited Prince Charles to inspect the lifeboat. At the pre-visit briefing, Benny had been told what was planned and the strict timetable which was to be abided by. However, after showing him around the vessel and explaining the charts of the sand banks off the station, Benny broke with protocol and invited Prince Charles for a trip - which he readily accepted!

A spare survival suit was thrown onto the lifeboat, a maroon was fired. Bruce, the Coxwain’s alsatian, broke loose at the sound of the maroon and sprang up the ladder to take his usual place on board much to the surprise of the Royal visitor! He was followed by the Lord Lieutenant, Mr Timothy Coleman, plus the Prince’s entourage for a trip on the North Sea, with Prince Charles taking the wheel of the “Shirley Jean Adye”. After returning to dry land, Prince Charles visited the shed, unveiled a plaque and was presented with a box of kippers, (see left with Miss C Carr, Mr P Durrant and Mr C Weymouth) and left half an hour later than scheduled.

Coxswain Benny and crew set out to sea in


Sunday 1st September was a normal day. The previous weekend had been the bank holiday which had proved eventful for the lifeboat as the annual raft race was held. It finished with both the inshore lifeboat and the “Bernard Matthews” going to the aid of the fishing vessel “Cheryl M” which had caught fire. After the fire was extinguished it was towed into Yarmouth Harbour by the “Bernard Matthews”. This was to be the last rescue that Benny Read would carry out, because on that first day of September tragedy was about to happen.

The Sunday morning was lovely and sunny, the crew gathered for their traditional pint at the “Never Turn Back” and all went home to lunch. At 1.30 pm Benny Read was telephoned by the Coastguards and requested to launch the inshore lifeboat. He readily agreed and asked for the pagers to be set off. Benny then ran across to the lifeboat station followed by Bruce, his loyal alsatian. In the course of setting off the maroon he was fatally injured when it exploded in his chest. The village was devastated that this lovely man should have been killed in what turned out to be a false alarm. The messages of sympathy came from far and wide and included those from HRH The Prince of Wales and Princess Alexandra. As the funeral procession left from his house on the Beach Road Car Park, a RAF Search and Rescue Helicopter with a lifeboat flag flying beneath, hovered and bowed in salute. The route to the church was lined with people as the crew walked in front of the hearse to the church. The path leading into the church was flanked from both sides with the crews past and present of the Norfolk and Suffolk lifeboats. During the funeral service, various clergy paid tribute to Benny’s life and work before he was laid to rest in the Caister Parish Cemetery.

After the tragic death of Benny Read, the lifeboat crew faced a test that no one was prepared, for Skipper Woodhouse was asked by a member of the media if the lifeboat would continue at Caister. Summing up the feeling of the crew, Skipper answered, “Did the Navy pack up when Admiral Nelson was killed?”. After the aftermath of the funeral and the awful phsycological effect on the crew, it was decided immediately after the funeral of Benny to place the lifeboat back on service once more, just as Benny would have wanted. Dick Thurlow was elected Coxswain, Billy Read, Benny’s younger brother was elected 2nd Coxswain, Paul Williams, Assistant Coxswain. All had long service in the lifeboat and also were local fishermen knowing the treacherous seas off Caister like the back of their hands. Whilst 1991 was a fairly quiet year, the next three years were to test the service to the fullest extent.

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Richard Thurlow


Dick Thurlow coxswain of the Caister Lifeboat for the past 10 years and is one of the longest serving members of the crew, pictured on the day of his recent birthday.

Born and bred by the sea, Caister coxswain Dick “has been on the open waves for most of his life. Dick, 49, is one of the longest serving members on the crew, and has been involved with the lifeboat for more than 33 years. He lives in Caister, with, his wife Annette and their three children. His first experience at sea was when he went herring fishing with his Uncle Peter a trawlerman, and his grandfather, when he was nine “That made me ill, I was really bad,” he said. “But it did not deter me and I went out fishing off the boats with various fishermen.
“I left school and went to sea. I went fishing with the first coxswain
Alfie Brown. I was fishing with him and went on from there.”

The Legendary Skipper Woodhouse, who encouraged youngsters to lend a hand at the lifeboat shed, first introduced him to the lifeboat when he was 12.

He became a member of the-crew in 1972, emergency coxswain in 1978; second coxswain In 1981; and finally coxswain of the lifeboat in 1991. When he is not out at sea rescuing people, Dick works offshore for Techmarine, specialist seabed surveyors and has carried out work throughout europe. His two sons Arron and Richard are both lifeboat members and have jobs with the coastguard and Ministry of Defence response boats.

He said the appeal was going well and he was looking forward to working with the Valentijn 2000 lifeboat in the future. “It will mean a lot to me. I saw the first boat, the Shirley Jean, come in and the Bernard Matthews. To see this new boat would be absolutely brilliant,” he said.

Extract taken from Great Yarmouth Mercury Friday March 21st

Dick Thurlow oversees preparations for recovering Bernard Matthews
onto the launching trolley. Arron Thurlow, John Cannell, Alex Low
and Tommy Williams digging out. 9th March 2003.

Dick Thurlow oversees a practice launch assisted by Alex Low
and Tommy Williams Jan 13th January 2002



Farewell For Lifeboat Hero

WHEN Dick Thurlow gazes out over the dunes at Caister his eyes follow a path to the sea taken by generations of lifeboatmen before him.

The busiest lifeboat in the station’s history, the Bernard Matthews, is locked in a shed with countless memories of village characters and acts of heroism.
A few yards away
a new shed awaits the arrival of Norfolk’s first jet-powered offshore lifeboat.

Mr Thurlow, will play no part in this next chapter of the station’s rich history as he has decided to retire as an active lifeboatman after 34 years, the last 13 as coxswain.

The skipper of a survey vessel said: “The new boat arrives in August but I am hoping the Bernard Matthews will have a role to play until the end of the year.
“After that I will still be involved with fundraising and hopefully as an emergency tractor driver.”

“At my age I would be retiring soon anyway so it would be wrong wasting all the effort to train me for the new boat. It’s better to leave it to the younger ones.”
Village garage owner Paul Williams will be taking over as coxswain, but the Thurlow name will live on as sons
Aaron, 19, and Richard, 21, are in the crew, and daughter Heidi, a junior member.

16, is The lines on Mr Thurlow’s face are testament to years of buffeting from the unrelenting gales that whip up the North Sea, but he cannot recall a single moment he did not think he would make it back to shore.

“The worst conditions I ever experienced were in 1993 when we joined the search for a Dutch fisherman washed overboard from a trawler.”
“We were 48 miles east of Yarmouth in hurricane force winds and searched unsuccessfully for two-and.a half hours.
HMS Nottingham, which had been
co-ordinating the search, escorted us back through what was sheer white water.”

Extract taken from Great Yarmouth Mercury Friday April 9th 2004

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Jack Plummer Coxswain Jimmy Brown Past Coxswain Alfie 'Mabby' Brown Asst Coxswain David Woodhouse Benny Read Skipper Woodhouse George Codman Jack Smith Tractor Driver Mr Chapman Tractor Driver Norford Brown 'Clinker' Brown Will 'Dawn' Green George 'Brush' Broom John 'Spratt' Haylett Coxswain Edward 'Ganny' Bullock 2nd Coxswain John 'Shell' George Edwin Haylett Alfed Barnard Charles Knights John 'Clinker' Brown Joe Julier 'Jack in the box' Rob 'Syreene' Green John 'Whampo' Brown Bob 'Pikey' Sutton Bert 'Gisha' George Walter Haylett SNR Charles Stow Haylett HF Clowes Hon Sec Solomon Brown Charles Sneller Billy Read James Haylett SNR RLNI Gold Medal William Wilson Coxswain James Haylett JUN Walter Haylett George Haylett Harry Knights Joe Julier Ben Kittle Joe Woodhouse SNR Skipper Woodhouse MBE Charlie Hodds Albert 'Dear' Broom Jack 'Clinker' Brown Paul Barnard Jack Plummer BEM, RNLI Bronze Medal 'Munch' Barnard Nat Brown John Plummer SNR Silver Medal Barny Barnard Ted Woolston 'French Coast' Mr Main Lifeboat Hon Sec Charlie Laycock Coxswain Spratt Haylett Lanlord of The Ship Inn 'Chippy' Sid Brown Solly Brown RLNI Silver Medal Jack Shepherd Smith 'Virgin' Brown Billy 'Shill' Haylett Joe Woodhouse Coxswain Skippers Father Charlie Stow Haylett Olive Dennis 'Bones' Hodds 'Clinker' Brown Charlie Hodds Jimmy Brown Unknown Unknown Unknown 'Bones' Hodds Virgin Brown Billy 'Shill' Haylett John 'Skipper' Woodhouse Coxswain Joe Woodhouse Prince Green Jack Brett Haylett Paul Barnard 'Spratt' Haylett 'Funky' Bill Barnard Unknown Joe Haylett - lost in the Zephyr in 1885 John Haylett Matches Hodds Aaron King William Knowles - lost in the Zephyr William Read John Vincent Isaiah Haylett Aaron Haylett Philip George Robert Read