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MPs pay tribute to local lifeboat volunteers

Friday, 29 March 2024 07:42

By Guy Henderson, local democracy reporter

RNLI lifeboats from Salcombe, Dart, Torbay, Teignmouth and Exmouth (image courtesy RNLI/Chris Slack Photography)

It marks charity's 200th anniversary

Two of South Devon’s MPs have been singing the praises of local lifeboat crews in the House of Commons.

Totnes MP Anthony Mangnall secured a debate marking the 200th anniversary of the Royal National Lifeboat Institution and began by describing the work of the rescuers as ‘magnificent’.

He said: “The RNLI is not just an emergency service, but a Great British brand that exhibits the very best of our spirit.”

There are now 238 lifeboat stations operating 440 lifeboats, while the RNLI also provides lifeguards for 200 beaches. It has been responsible for rescuing around 146,000 people over its history.

“Today the RNLI holds legendary status,” he said. “Those of us who have grown up in coastal communities or who are fortunate to represent one have long been moved by the tales of epic heroism in which volunteers – members of the community – have put their lives on the line for others.

”The RNLI has, without prejudice, always come to the aid of those in danger on the sea, such as the enemy during the first and second world wars, merchant sailors in peril, holidaymakers who are caught out, or refugees crossing the channel.”

He said the RNLI would always remain independent of the government, relying instead on the support of donors to meet its costs. Businesses such as shipping company Baltic Exchange have an important role, with the company lending its name to the Salcombe lifeboat.

Anthony Mangnall (Image: Official Parliamentary Photo)

And he went on to pay tribute to the lifeboat stations in his constituency – at Brixham, Dartmouth and Salcombe.

“Those three lifeboat stations are a necessity to coastal living,” he said. “Their crews and support staff number well over 100 volunteers, and they have battled against some of the most ferocious storms to save those at sea, as well as dealt with thousands of visitors who flock to our beaches.

“The people of South Devon owe them an enormous amount, and we do not for a single second forget their courage and bravery in volunteering for the RNLI.

“Today we mark and celebrate in parliament the 200 years of the RNLI. I pray for calm seas and fair winds, and that it will continue to perform its masterful brave work for the next two centuries.”

Torbay MP Kevin Foster said the RNLI had been at the heart of the bay community since its services there began in 1866.

He went on: “It is easy to see why the RNLI is such a loved institution when we hear the stories of its members’ heroism. In Torbay we have Keith Bower, who I think is one of only three living holders of the RNLI gold medal for conspicuous gallantry.

“There have been many occasions on which volunteers will have absolutely pushed to the limits what they could do to save someone in distress. It is right that we pay tribute and remember them.”

And, he added: “It is also worth noting how the RNLI supports the wider work of the community. There is always a moment for reflection when I am about to do the Boxing Day walk into the sea at Paignton and I see the lifeboat pull up beforehand. The RNLI effectively provides a safety boat.

“It is a slightly thought-provoking moment. I sit there thinking ‘Is this the best decision I’ve ever made?’ as I am about to walk into freezing cold water, with the lifeboat pulling up to keep us safe. It shows what the RNLI does for the wider community. It is not just about emergencies, but about providing the safety and support that such events need.”

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