This month LIZ has been watching our own local heroes, the crew of the Mumbles Lifeboat, and wonders what sort of special person volunteers to risk their lives for others
I was born and grew up in Mumbles and I’ve lived thereabouts for roughly fifty-five years and in all that time I never saw the lifeboat being launch-ed. Growing up in the village I was familiar with the three rockets, the signal for lifeboatmen to drop whatever they were doing and make their way as speedily as possible to the lifeboathouse, and, maybe, once I caught the splash as the lifeboat hit the water. But that was from Oystermouth Square, hardly a close-up view.
So when it happened that I was walking on the pier with my grand-daughter in her pushchair and I was passed first by a man on a bicycle pedalling furiously and then a running man I knew it could only mean one thing. ‘They’re launching the lifeboat!’ I yelled at the sleeping infant, as I burst into a jog.
Now you’ve probably read enough of me to know that nothing’s going to be straight forward and so the lift that provided access to the viewing platform proved. What lift have you ever been in where you have to keep your finger pressed on the button to keep it moving? Anyway, once I’d worked that out, it was fine. Until I tried to get out. I could see a bit of the lifeboat and the men getting ready but I couldn’t open the door! So close and I was going to miss it. Oh, surely not? I tried to breathe deeply, think calmly and work out why the door wouldn’t open. Could it be that I was between floors? Ah … yes. Pressing – and holding – the button again took us up further where the disembodied voice announced, ‘First floor,’ and we could get out.
So I saw it all. (Grand-daughter slept through it.)
What struck me was how calm and organised it all was. There was no sense of panic. It was streamlined efficiency. Admittedly the conditions were reason-able: it was warm and dry in spite of the quite strong wind, and the sea was fairly calm, at least in the bay. But I am convinced the launch would have been just as smooth had there been a ferocious sea and a storm raging outside.
Conditions were far less ideal one dark April evening seventy years ago when the lifeboat was launched into rough seas and force 8-10 winds. On that occasion none of the crew of eight returned. And that was Mumbles’ second lifeboat disaster: in 1883 three of the crew died during a rescue attempt.
In the memorial service in 1947 it was said, ‘… as long as there is a Mumbles, there will be a Mumbles lifeboat and Mumbles men will man her,’ and just after that horrific disaster, around 30 local men volunteered to serve as lifeboatmen when Mumbles got its replacement lifeboat.
One of those who joined the new crew was the now sadly-deceased Derek Scott. A good number of years ago I interviewed the former coxswain, and asked him if he ever got scared going out in the lifeboat. He replied, ‘If I wasn’t afraid I wouldn’t be human but those people waiting for us were a darn sight more frightened and we were their last hope. We had to do it.’ Derek also described what it was like to be on the lifeboat being lifted sky-high by a wave and then dropping free-fall towards the hold of a burning tanker carrying chemicals.
Today in the new lifeboat house you can see a board showing the current male and female crew members. And, coxswain excepted, they are all– and this is what continues to amaze me – volunteers. They don’t have to do it. No-one is forcing them to risk their lives. They don’t get paid for it. Doesn’t that amaze you too?
In his gospel the disciple John wrote, ‘Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.’ He was talking specifically about the love for us Jesus demonstrated by dying on the cross but what greater expression of love could there be? Someone who is willing to die or to risk dying for the sake of another, to save the life of a stranger, is not only displaying great love but amazing courage as well.
I don’t think I could do it.
Back in the 1980s Bonnie Tyler sang that she needed a hero. I suggest she need only look across the bay from her West Cross home and she’ll see plenty of them.
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The RNLI receives no UK government funding. It’s a charity and the majority of its income comes from donations. Over the weekend of 13-15 October this year an annual fund-raising event known as the Fish Supper is taking place. The idea is that you invite friends and family for a fish supper and collect donations for the RNLI. If you’d like to know more check out the RNLI’s website or ask at their shop at the end of the pier.