Anniversary: 4 March 2024, the RNLI is 200

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Anniversary: 4 March 2024, the RNLI is 200
Royal National Lifeboat Institution

EU010270: Lifeboat Heroes Decorated – 5 April 1935

See a selection of RNLI images here

The RNLI was founded in 1824.  Relying on volunteers and donations, it saves lives at sea without fear or favour, from people in danger from floods or dangerous sea tides, to refugees crossing the channel, to ships in distress anywhere near Britain’s treacherous coastline and sandbanks.

A great way to understand the extraordinary institution and volunteers which make up the RNLI is through the story of Henry Blogg, the most decorated RNLI volunteer in history, the “bravest man who ever lived”.

1123062: Henry Blogg April 1934

In his 53 years of service, by the time of his death (on land) in 1954, Blogg was responsible for the rescue of 873 people.

One of the most poignant periods of his career was during WWI.  In 1917, Henry Blogg, coxswain of the Cromer Lifeboat in Norfolk, led a crew with an average age of 50, with the eldest being 70. Why the elderly crew for such physically demanding and dangerous work? The young men had all been called up for either the Navy or the Merchant Navy.  As a result, the Cromer Lifeboat Crew was made up of the middle-aged and elderly men of the village, led by 40-year old fisherman Henry Blogg.

On a winters night, 9 January 1917, a distress call came in from the “Pyrin”, in mortal danger just in sight of the coast.  The waves were huge, and the lifeboat was simply a rowing boat, the “Louisa Heartwell”. Time and again it seemed that the lifeboat would be dashed to pieces but under the skill of the men and their leader, after 3 tense hours, they reached the “Pyrin” and rescued 16 crew

The minute the lifeboatmen were safely on land and in dry clothes, a second distress call came.  The Swedish ship “Fernebo” had been blown in two by a mine, 4 miles off shore.  Blogg gathered his exhausted men and they launched again, but it was much more difficult this time. The increasingly mountainous seas drove them relentlessly back.  Hope and time were running out for the sailors trapped on the second half of the riven ship. Blogg and his crew launched for the third time, but were repeatedly thrown back onto the beach by the forces of the sea. Then Blogg, a Cromer sailor since his teens, realised that the tide was just at the point where an “outset” or seaward flow might wash them straight towards the wreck.  With thousands of people now watching from the cliff top, Blogg put his plan into action, helped by search lights, and at 1am, after 14 hours of desperate struggle, 11 Greeks and Swedes were rescued from the wreck.

Henry Blogg, quiet and reserved and quick to praise his crew, won the RNLI Gold Medal three times, plus four silver medals and the George Cross.

Towards the end of his career, Henry Blogg made his first and only speech.  He said: ‘Cromer has always had good boats and good crews. And it always will.’

So Happy 200th Birthday to the RNLI, cherished by the sea-faring and beach-loving culture that makes up the British Isles.  And never can this be more sincerely wished: Many Happy Returns.



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