Revealing history of hero lifeboatman

RICHARD BATSON He was the greatest lifeboatman who ever lived. But a new book also gives an insight into the sad personal life of the legendary Henry Blogg.

RICHARD BATSON

He was the greatest lifeboatman who ever lived. But a new book also gives an insight into the sad personal life of the legendary Henry Blogg.

It reveals the Cromer coxswain was a withdrawn illegitimate child who was bullied at school, could not swim, and had a wife whose “fondness for drink” upset the teetotaller.

The book, Never Turn Back, charts the last 50 years of lifeboat history, heroics, and technological strides - all depending on “ordinary people doing extraordinary things.”

Blogg's actions scrape into the post-war book because he retired in 1947, but authors Ray and Susannah Kipling say they show how lifeboatmen could become household names.

And it highlights the transition of crews, which used to be drawn from fishing communities and went to sea in open boats, compared with modern hi-tech vessels and equipment now operated by “lawyers and bus drivers”.

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Blogg made his name with medal-winning rescues driving his lifeboat on to the decks of stricken ships to pluck scores of casualties to safety.

But he was a quiet man, who hated being in the public eye, and was reluctant to talk about his seafaring exploits.

And the book says Blogg - whose tally of three RNLI gold and four silver medals is unrivalled - buried his personal sadness, and his “calm exterior shielded a difficult personal life”.

He was born illegitimate in 1876 and took the name of his mother Ellen Blogg. A school report described him as a “spindle-shanked lad who never took part in games. He would not run and never learned to swim”.

Henry married teacher Annie Brackenbury, but the couple's children died young - their son aged two and daughter aged 25.

The “lonely couple” welcomed home visits by local vicar's son Richard Barclay, who remembers Henry Annie as “a quiet, wizened old lady scurrying around her spotlessly clean cottage like a frightened mouse”.

The book adds: “She rarely spoke in front of her husband, and later Richard discovered that she not only had the strain of having Henry risking his life at sea, but there were stories of her fondness for drink, which was deeply upsetting to teetotaller Henry.”

Family historian Kitty Lee said Blogg's illegitimacy had been “kept reasonably quiet” in print, and felt that recording his wife's liking of a drink was not particularly fair.

“She used to get a bottle of gin from the off licence, but a lot of the woman did. Annie was a tiny woman who had a sad life and dressed in black after losing her two children,” added Mrs Lee. Henry was her grandfather's brother, and she is the daughter of the equally-famous lifeboatman Shrimp Davies.

Shrimp's nephew, and former lifeboat coxswain Richard Davies, said the book facts were true and did no harm to the reputation of Henry.

The book also features the Wells lifeboat's involvement in the rescue of the Savinesti in 1979 in a hurricane-driven snow storm, when mechanic Graham Walker thought “I hope we capsize” because the sea was warmer than the bitingly cold air.

And the 214-page volume takes its title from the words uttered in 1901 of another medal winning Norfolk lifeboatman James Haylett, which became the unspoken motor of the lifeboat service - even though ironically the RNLI shut his Caister station, resulting in it setting up as an independent rescue unit.

t Never Turn Back is launched today (oct 3) by Sutton Publishing costing £19.99 with £1 from each book going to the RNLI.

It can also be obtained from the RNLI at www.rnlishop.org.uk