Just as in our rural village we know that the members of volunteer fire brigade will drop whatever they are doing and rush to help when they hear the sirens, the people I used to know on the Scillies listened for the sound of the lifeboat maroon, counted the number of booms and knew that the men (it was only men at that time) of the island would be launching the lifeboat, often into dangerous seas, hoping to rescue people in peril.

Here’s the St Mary’s lifeboat assisting a lone French sailor:

Every year the island churches held a special Lifeboat Service. I’ve found a recent video and gosh, I recognise some of those people!

There are lifeboats all around the British Isles, part of the organisation called the RNLI – the Royal National Lifeboat Institution. This was founded as the “Royal National Institution for the Preservation of Life from Shipwreck” (King George IV granting the ‘Royal’ prefix) in London in 1824 by Sir William Hillary. In 1854 it became the Royal National Lifeboat Institution.

RNLI Station Map | davidsberry

Today’s header shows Grace Darling, an early heroine of rescue at sea.

Britain, or maybe England, has become a strange place, one which I don’t recognise of late. It feels as if those who shout loudest, saying the most hateful things, have taken over – often led by a man whose name I refuse to type. This person, having achieved Brexit (partly by drumming up hatred against EU citizens), is now a sort of pathetic rebel without a cause and has decided to turn his attention to asylum seekers crossing the English channel by boat – the numbers of which have increased recently. These boats – mostly rubber dinghies in bad repair, loaded with too many people – sometimes come into difficulties in the channel and, of course, the RNLI goes out and saves the passengers from drowning.

The frog-like person now has his own TV show on the new right-wing British TV channel GBTV and took the opportunity this week to blast the RNLI for acting as a ‘taxi service’ for migrants. This led to RNLI volunteers being verbally abused by members of the public, and some RNLI supporters withdrawing their support.

The RNLI fought back:

Actually, they didn’t need to. The country had their back, and within 24 hours the RNLI had seen an increase of over 2,000% in donations, including long-term covenants and flocks of new volunteers. This cheered my heart.

The maroons are a thing of the past; lifeboat crew are now alerted differently, but I am remembering one Sunday evening at church on St Mary’s many years ago when, towards the end of the service, the maroons went off. There were several lifeboat men in the congregation and without any fuss at all they just left their places in the pews to go to the slip and launch the lifeboat. I don’t remember which hymn we should have been singing to close the service, but Reverend Adams – looking up at my father, who was the church organist – said:

“We’ll close this evening with hymn number 933”; we all knew which one that was:

“Eternal Father, strong to save,
Whose arm hath bound the restless wave,
Who bid’st the mighty ocean deep
Its own appointed limits keep;
O hear us when we cry to Thee,
For those in peril on the sea.”

FInd out more about the RNLI here:

RNLI – Royal National Lifeboat Institution – Saving Lives at Sea

St Mary’s lifeboat:

St Marys Lifeboat Station – RNLI Lifeboat Stations