Cromer, Happisburgh, Mundesley and Wells coastguards honoured for stalwart service

They are our eyes and ears, watching the Norfolk coast and always ready to run to the rescue.

But on Friday evening, the tables were turned as all eyes were focused on a clutch of coastguards as they stepped into the limelight to receive long-service awards.

The seven men had totted up 180 years of sterling service between them, and were honoured by a visit from presenting officer Peter Dymond, who travelled from HM Coastguard headquarters at Southampton for the presentations at The Cottage in Cromer.

The function room of the Louden Road pub was packed with friends, family and colleagues, who gave stirring rounds of applause to each of the men as they received their awards.

Before the presentation, Mr Dymond spoke of an ongoing overhaul of the service, which included the looming closure of the base at Great Yarmouth, with emergency calls set to be handled from Humberside, Dover or Southampton.

He said: 'Nothing is going to affect the size, shape and role of the coastguard rescue service, but hopefully in the future we will see more full-time officers.

'We are going to increase from 42 to 74 the number of full-time sector managers. We've introduced lots of new kit and lots of new training.

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'We are expecting a lot from all of you in terms of training, competence and responsibility.'

He added: 'We are reducing the rescue co-ordination centres from 18 to nine, and having a maritime operations centre at Fareham. Any one of the co-ordination centres will be able to handle incidents anywhere in the UK.'

Before presenting the awards, Mr Dymond said it was a 'great pleasure' to honour so many coastguards, who had shown such 'loyalty and professionalism' to the service and to their communities.

Those getting awards were:

? Dave Stow, who is retiring after 40 years' service at Cromer, where he rose to station officer

? Geoffrey 'Joe' Hales, honoured for 35 years' with Happisburgh coastguard rescue team

? Cedric Cox, 30 years with Happisburgh

? Cubitt Seily, 30 years with Happisburgh

? Roger Raisbury, 20 years with Wells

? Mike Watson, 15 years with Mundesley

? Dilip Patel, 10 years with Happisburgh.

Mr Stow, who is retiring because of health problems, recalled starting work in 1971 when teams had just a breeches buoy as their equipment.

He said the first vehicle was a Hillman Imp, while the men had 'no cliff rescue equipment'.

He added: 'We now have fully trained rescue teams up to internationally recognised standards.'

He said 'rumours' that the coastguards were closing down were 'unfounded', and said the overhaul would not result in fewer people on the Norfolk coast.

Mr Stow, 62, said: 'I have loved every minute of the job. It's so nice knowing that you can be there to help people when they are in trouble.'

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