New historic chapter for Caister men who never turn back

It was an uneventful Sunday meeting at the boathouse but one attracting far more interest than normal.

The excitement of being part of the greatest spectacle on the River Thames for more than a century had not just taken over the crew of Caister's independent lifeboat, it had whipped up the entire village to a frenzy.

A week on, coxswain Paul Williams, 52, a crew member from the age of 16, confessed his regular Sunday morning walk along Beach Road from his home to the boathouse had taken him more than half an hour 'because everyone has been stopping me to ask what it was like'.

Intense local interest was also shown by the fact that the station's Facebook page had already attracted 1,000 followers and dozens of 'humbling comments' - within days of them entering the world of social media.

The mad beeping of horns and waving of union flags, the cheers from the throng of spectators lining the banks, the exhilaration of live interviews on national television and the Dunkirk-like spirit of everyone taking part will remain only as a memory for the 13 crew members there.

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However, mementoes from the Thames Diamond Jubilee Pageant, including a special pageant flag given to all 1,000 vessels taking part - including a number of others from our region - will soon take pride of place in the lifeboat's rich history display, dating back to the days of the Caister Beach Company in 1791.

The honours boards document countless heroic rescues, tragedies such as the Beauchamp disaster of 1901, when the boat overturned and nine crewmen were lost, and the defiant spirit of villagers in setting up an independent lifeboat in 1969 when the RNLI pulled out.

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However, lifeboat chairman Paul Garrod, 45, who himself took part in one of the station's greatest rescues nearly two years ago when two men and a teenage boy were plucked from the sea after their fishing boat sunk off the North Norfolk coast, said: 'To have taken part in the procession must count as one of the top moments in our history.

'It was all the more an honour because of our strong Royal connections; our current boat, Bernard Matthews 11, was named by Prince Charles on a visit in 2005 and the Duke of Edinburgh came here in 2009 to mark our 40 years as an independent station.

'We also felt we were representing Great Yarmouth's great maritime tradition and flew the borough flag as well as the Norfolk flag and Caister lifeboat flag.'

Local hotelier Mr Garrod confessed that despite the station's famous saying 'Caister men never turn back', they had found it quite a daunting journey on the Friday, crossing the busy shipping lanes into Harwich and Felixstowe, on their way to London.

However, that was quickly forgotten at 2pm on the Sunday when the order came to start their engines as the procession got under way at Barn Elms.

They had been moored alongside an old lifeboat from Chelmsford, in the pageant's historic and working boats section, and struck up an immediate friendship with the crew.

He said: 'The atmosphere going through central London was incredible. We were close to the bank on the south side of the river and could hear the deafening shouts and cheers of every spectator. Every space was filled and people were hanging over every office balcony. It was a once in a lifetime experience.'

The highlight came when they went past the Royal barge. 'I am sure they gave us a wave,' he said.

In the midst of all the flag-waving fervour, lifeboat secretary Derek George, 74, of Westerley Way, Caister, had reason to reflect on the history of the station as well as the magnificent history of London around him.

For his great-grandfather Charles Bonney George had died in the Beauchamp disaster and two other ancestors had been coxswains before that. 'This is in my blood. It was a massive honour for my whole family,' he said.

However, back home with the only sound being the crashing of the waves, anyone expecting a Sunday morning launch was to be disappointed with Mr Garrod declaring: 'Last Sunday was practice enough: we are due a week off.'

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