Sheringham pays tribute to ‘phenomenal Shantyman’

Cromer Lifeboat displayLife boatmen L-r Billy Thirtle / John Worthington (oldest crew member 82 yrs)

Cromer Lifeboat displayLife boatmen L-r Billy Thirtle / John Worthington (oldest crew member 82 yrs) / Ralph KirkFor:EdpCopy:EdpArchant 2004(01603) 772434 - Credit: Archant © 2004

A Sheringham lifeboat stalwart was given a fitting send-off this week, when crew members carried his coffin down the aisle of a packed St Peter's Church for his funeral.

Current and former Sheringham lifeboat crew members carrying the coffin of Billy Thirtle into St Pet

Current and former Sheringham lifeboat crew members carrying the coffin of Billy Thirtle into St Peter's Church. Picture: KAREN BETHELL - Credit: Archant

Billy Thirtle, who has died aged 85, was born to a Sheringham fishing family whose roots in the town stretch back more than five generations.

However, his dream of following in his father, grandfather and great-grandfather's sea-faring footsteps were thwarted by childhood asthma and he ended up taking jobs ranging from cinema projectionist, to coffin maker and taxi driver.

Aged 38, Billy finally realised his lifelong ambition and, with the encouragement of local legend Henry 'Joyful' West, joined Sheringham lifeboat crew as a mechanic and radio operator, working on what went on to become the town's longest-serving motorised boat, the Manchester Unity of Oddfellows.

After retiring as an active crew member at the required age of 45, Billy continued to support the RNLI, serving on Sheringham RNLI branch management committee for more than 20 years and using the boat-building skills he gained as a youngster to help restore the historic boats at town's Mo Museum.

He also teamed up again with Henry 'Joyful' West and Jack West to crew the Manchester Unity of Oddfellows when it was brought back by sea from Scarborough to take up residence at the seafront museum.

His 50 years' unstinting service was rewarded two years ago, when he was presented with a RNLI bronze medal for services to Sheringham lifeboat.

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A founder member of Sheringham songsters the Shantymen, Billy, who lost his wife, Pat, six years ago, enjoyed performing with the group, which since being formed in 1990, has raised tens of £1,000s for the RNLI and local charities.

Sheringham RNLI operations manager Brian Farrow, who is a fellow Shantymen founder member, said Billy, who 'never gave less than a 100 per cent' throughout his life, would be much missed.

'From the perspective of the lifeboat, he was a wonderful supporter whose input was enormously valuable,' Mr Farrow added. 'And, as a Shantyman, he was phenomenal; he never needed a songbook as he always knew the words and I don't ever remember him missing a gig.'

Mr Thirtle's funeral service included a tribute read by Mike Holford, the hymn For Those in Peril on the Sea, and the songs Spanish Ladies, Colliers Brig and Windy Old Weather sung by the Shantymen.

Billy Thirtle leaves a daughter Sally and a son, Joe.

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