Long serving Lowestoft lifeboat hero dies
06:30 27 February 2013
A stalwart of Lowestoft’s RNLI crew, who was involved in dramatic rescues, has died at the age of 94.
Tommy Knott served with the Royal National Lifeboat Institution in Lowestoft for 22 years and was coxswain/mechanic from 1968 to 1978, being awarded honours for two gallant rescues.
Mr Knott was a popular figure at the Royal Norfolk and Suffolk Yacht Club, where he lived and died at the age of 94 on Wednesday, February 13.
As well as being lifeboat coxswain and an able seaman, Mr Knott was also a coal miner, plumber, builder, mechanic and college tutor – while many people in Lowestoft will fondly recall being served by Mr Knott at the Woodbine Café, which he used to run with his wife Joan.
Born in St Margaret’s Bay, Kent in 1918 he was the youngest of three children. After schooling he enrolled at Gravesend sea school and then joined the merchant navy. A series of voyages followed before the navy sent him to Lowestoft with a job based in Hamilton Dock to arm trawlers with a range of guns.
He was billeted above a newsagents shop in Suffolk Road and would eat at the Woodbine Café – and it was here where he met the owner’s daughter Joan. Their romance blossomed as they later married and the couple had a son, Michael.
Mr Knott applied for a vacancy as the mechanic on the Lowestoft lifeboat in 1956, and after 12 years of “well-respected” service he was promoted to coxswain/mechanic.
During his time with the lifeboat crew he was involved in many rescues and in 1974 he and second coxswain Peter Gibbons were awarded the RNLI’s Bronze Medal for a gallant service in challenging conditions, when the lifeboat saved the yacht Sarina and crew of four.
In August 1976 Mr Knott was involved in another dramatic rescue. His son Michael was the coxswain of the pilot cutter Vivid, and he recalled the incident. “We had a large ship waiting offshore ready to come into the harbour,” Michael said. “I had taken the pilot out to the vessel and because of its size a tug was also being used to steady the ship. I brought the pilot boat back into harbour and was waiting at the Bridge House control room when a distress call came from the pilot onboard the ship. Somehow the tug Barkis had had a major problem and sunk.”
With Mr Knott nearby at the yacht station, Michael called him to help, and they set off in the pilot boat to aid the sunken tug’s crew, which had capsized near Ness Buoy one mile east of the harbour.
Mr Knott jumped in the sea and saved three crew-members. He made two attempts to save a fourth man, a relief skipper, but this was unsuccessful and his body was recovered later. He was awarded a Bronze Second-Service clasp in recognition of his courage and determination and Michael was also awarded a framed letter of thanks.
Eventually retiring in 1978, aged 60, Mr Knott soon took on the role of tutor at the maritime school of Lowestoft College, teaching sea survival techniques. His wife Joan died in 1982 and Tommy became caretaker at the RNSYC, later moving into a bed-sit flat at the club.
Having made arrangements for his own funeral, Mr Knott arranged to leave his body to medical science at the UEA Medical School in Norwich and gave instructions that a wake should be held at the Yacht Club.
Michael said: “Dad was not a religious man and specifically asked that any memorial service should not be a sad occasion. So plans have been made to hold a humanist celebration of Tommy’s life at the RNSYC on Friday, March 1 at 2pm.”