Glen Monroe, Chiswick RNLI helmsman

Profile by Bridget Osborne

January 2018

If we had a Chiswick New Year’s Honours list I could think of no more deserving recipient than Glen Monroe, Chiswick Helmsman for the RNLI. 54 year old Glen from Norfolk joined the Lifeboat service in 1986 as a volunteer and has been full time here in Chiswick since the London stations opened in January 2002. In his career he’s gone out 1480 times in command of a lifeboat on a service call.

Unsurprisingly they all begin to merge when you’ve been called out that many times, but some call-outs stick in his mind. His first dead body, when he was 22: he had to extricate a woman called Pearl Blythe from between a ship and a quayside. She was already dead in the water when he reached her. The goriest? A speedboat accident on the Norfolk Broads. The most terrifying? The first time he went out as helmsman. He came on watch and put in the routine call to the coastguard to be told that a plane had gone down in the Norfolk Broads. Envisaging an airliner full of passengers, he set off to find a microlight whose pilot had already been rescued by a passing cruiser. “It was funny afterwards”.

Nine lives saved – “the rescue I’m most proud of”

The one he’s most proud of at first glance doesn’t seem all that dramatic, as the participants didn’t even get wet. Two years ago he and two crew mates rescued a rowing eight who had hit the Dove pier at Hammersmith and were pinned by wind and tide. No one went in the water and no one was injured, and in fact the nine women may not even have realised quite how much danger they were in, thanks to the skill of the lifeboat crew. “We manoeuvered the lifeboat within an inch. If I had made a mistake I could have run them over and if they’d gone in and been trapped under the houseboats they wouldn’t have come up again”.

Glen says river users are more conscious of the dangers than they used to be. The RNLI have done a lot of education work in local boat and rowing clubs in recent years, getting people to check that their life-jackets are serviceable, and wear them, and encouraging the use of ‘kill chords’, which stop a boat’s engine if you fall overboard.

Fewer drunks

Chiswick is the second busiest lifeboat station in the whole of the UK and Ireland (second only to Tower Bridge). They have nine full time staff and 51 volunteers, of whom seven or eight are women. There’s a waiting list to become a volunteer. Chiswick Lifeboat Station is staffed 24/7 as there is a steady supply of call-outs ranging from rowers and other river users in trouble, to people attempting suicide, to people going in to the river to try and save their dog.

Last year they were called out 177 times which is the quietest year they’ve had for 16 years. The problem of people falling in drunk is apparently less of an issue than it was, but there are more people getting stuck on the foreshore watching the Oxford & Cambridge Boat Race, as the races are starting earlier and people don’t realise that the tide will come in and quickly cut them off. The Thames has a massive tidal range; the height of the water changes by seven and a half metres on spring tides, rising a metre in 20 minutes.

Glen “doesn’t keep count” of the lives he’s saved and the people he has rescued. “I try to keep a distance” he says, “it helps me do my job”. But he’s adamant that animal lives are as important as humans and will always do his best to save a dog in trouble, whether the owner is showing any sign of going in after them or not.