Chiswick Lifeboat station has special role in RNLI 200 year anniversary celebrations

Image above: RNLI members at Westminster Abbey for the service of commemoration on Monday 4 March

RNLI “a model for everyone” says Archbishop of Canterbury

The Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI) has celebrated 200 years of their mission to save lives at sea at a service at Westminster Abbey. Lifeboat crews, volunteers and staff from all over the UK and Ireland assembled with fundraisers, partners and VIPs to hear the Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby pay tribute to the courage of the men and women to put their own lives at risk saving lives at sea.

A lot had changed, he said, since the days when they saved people from the shipwrecks of tall-masted sailing ships to saving asylum seekers today, but what had remained constant was their mission to save human lives, saving people who were not known to them at great personal cost.

Image above: Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby

The Archbishop remembered the crew of the Penlee lifeboat, lost in heavy seas in 1981 when it went out to try and help a boat whose engines had failed, and mentioned meeting the son of one of the crew who had died, who went on to become a lifeboat crew member himself. It is often the case in lifeboat communities that membership of the lifeboat crew is a family tradition.

Saving life, said Justin Welby, was “the most precious thing” and that the RNLI were “a model for everyone”. Two hundred years of service was “something extraordinary to celebrate”, he said.

The RNLI has recently had to defend itself against political attacks for saving migrants in the Channel. Nigel Farage accused them of ‘running a migrant taxi service’, after which the RNLI found it was inundated with messages of support. They raised more than £200,000 in a single day and inquiries from people interested in volunteering quadrupled.

Image above: RNLI 200th anniversary wervice at Westminster Abbey

Founder Sir William Hillary’s ‘Appeal to the Nation’ read by Martin Stephen, who was himself rescued from drowning by lifeboatmen

The charity was set up by Sir William Hillary in 1824. Martin Stephen read from Sir William’s ‘Appeal to the Nation‘ to set up ‘a large body of men … in constant readiness to risk their own lives for the preservation of those whom they have never known or seen, perhaps of another nation, merely because they are fellow creatures in extreme peril.’

Sir William came from the Isle of Man and had witnessed many shipwrecks in rough seas.

Video produced by the RNLI on the history of the service.

Since the RNLI was established they have saved 146,277 lives, Martin Stephen’s among them. He was rescued by two crewmen from the Dunbar lifeboat. He had gone to the harbour on a stormy day with his two younger cousins, Angus and Davy. The wind was blowing gale force 10 and Davy was caught by a freak wave.

Martin jumped in to try to save him, but the water was too ferocious. With both of them in serious trouble, Angus raised the alarm. Dunbar lifeboat was launched. Crewmen David Brunton and Jonathan Alston jumped in to save him, but Davy was never found. He recounts what happened in this podcast to commemorate the bicentenary:

Image above: RNLI 200th anniversary wervice at Westminster Abbey

Chiswick Lifeboat crew starts off the anniversary scroll relay

After the service representatives from Chiswick RNLI took part in the first stage of the RNLI’s relay taking an anniversary scroll around teh country to lifeboat stations, lifeguard units and fundraising branches, to be signed by representatives at each location on its route.

The scroll bears a pledge which reads:

‘Whoever we are, wherever we are from, we are one crew, ready to save lives. We’re powered by passion, talent and kindness, like generations of selfless lifesavers before us.

‘This is our watch, we lead the way, valuing each other, trusting each other, depending on one another, volunteering to face the storm together. Knowing that, with courage, nothing is impossible. That is what has always driven us to save everyone we can. It’s what makes every one of us a lifesaver.’

Image above: Chiswick’s Lifeboat on service

At Chiswick the scroll is to be signed by John Soones BEM JP, chair of Chiswick RNLI Lifeboat Management Group, who said:

“The RNLI @ 200 is an incredible organisation filled with selfless, heroic people who put others before themselves.  I am proud of my contribution, but even prouder of all those around me.”

Chiswick’s Lifeboat station at Chiswick Pier, Corney Reach, is the second busiest lifeboat station in the whole of the UK and Ireland, the busiest being the one at Tower Bridge. Chiswick RNLI and the other three Thames lifeboat stations were set up in the aftermath of the Marchioness disaster, in which 51 people drowned. The London stations celebrated 20 years of search and rescue on the tidal river in January 2022. Chiswick has a crew on standby 24/7.

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The RNLI is a charity and their shop has a range of commemorative gift ideas from caps and pins to teddy bears in Victorian cork lifejackets to raise money around the bicentenary. If you don’t want a cap or a badge or a teddy bear or a wall chart but want to support them, you can just donate money.