‘What happened to the boy whose life I saved?’ Hero’s plea after day of drama at West Runton beach nearly 50 years ago

The beach at West Runton. Picture: ALLY McGILVRAY

The beach at West Runton. Picture: ALLY McGILVRAY - Credit: ALLY McGILVRAY

A convalescent man who saved the lives of several people off the north Norfolk coast nearly 50 years ago is anxious to know what happened to one boy in particular.

The beach at West Runton. Picture: ALLY McGILVRAY

The beach at West Runton. Picture: ALLY McGILVRAY - Credit: ALLY McGILVRAY

Victor Levine, then living in Cromer, had been under doctor's orders not to exert himself in August 1969 when he plunged into the sea at West Runton twice within a short space of time to rescue swimmers in distress.

On the second occasion Mr Levine, who received an honour from the Royal Humane Society for his efforts, took a panicking boy from his drowning father's arms and swam, towing the child, safely back to shore. The father managed to save himself.

Mr Levine, who now lives in the Channel Island of Alderney, said: 'I have often wondered what's happened to that boy and whether he had children who wouldn't exist had I not risked my life.

'I would really love to meet the boy and his family again and ask how he has fared. Perhaps he has grandchildren now, as it is almost 48 years ago.'

On August 11 1969 he and his friend Michael Goldsmith were sunbathing on West Runton beach while Mr Levine, then 23, recovered from a serious car crash in Sweden a couple of weeks earlier, when he had been flung through his windscreen and on to his bonnet. Doctors had ordered him not to swim, run or exercise until he had fully recovered.

'There was a very strong current running out to sea yet it was hot and sunny so people were deceived thinking it safe to swim,' he recalled.

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'Suddenly a lady ran along the beach screaming 'My husband and two children are being dragged out to sea on a lilo and none of them can swim!'

'Nobody responded as everyone could see it was dangerous so I rushed into the sea, swam out to the lilo and dragged it back to shore against the strong current. Michael tried to help but was not a strong swimmer so was unable to go out of his depth.

The father and two young children were safe and joined the mother who was elated. I am not sure they realised they would just have been taken further and further out to sea if I had not rescued them. Whether the Cromer Lifeboat would have arrived in time in the days before cellphones who knows? All three of them may well have drowned.

'Exhausted, I was recovering from this unwanted exertion when another lady ran along the beach screaming that her husband and son were out to sea and drowning, only some 10 minutes afterwards.

'Again, nobody went in to save them so I had to swim out - against doctor's orders not to swim or run or exercise - on my own as Michael stopped at four feet deep water.

'The son was struggling in his father's arms having no confidence his father could swim holding him, and the father asked me whether he should punch his son and knock him out as he had panicked expecting to drown.

'I asked the father if he could swim back on his own and told him to do so and said I would take the boy.

'The boy immediately relaxed when I put him on his back and held his head out of the water and I headed for shore doing backstroke with just my legs.

A 67-year-old schoolteacher called Geoffrey Shuffrey (who had by then retired as a French teacher at the Paston School in North Walsham) had swum out nearby but was unable to assist but gave us some encouragement. Getting very tired after many minutes fighting the strong current I asked whether it was safe to stand and, misunderstanding Mr Shuffrey's answer, I tried to stand but it was still way too deep and so I went underwater, swallowing a load of saltwater!

'Later Mr Shuffrey said my face turned white and then green and he was sure I was going to drown, and the boy. I also thought I would drown unless I let go of the boy and swam for my life to shore but, despite that, I could not leave the boy to drown so struggled on, seriously risking my life.

'Eventually, after what seemed ages, I arrived where I could just stand with water around mid-chest level and was able to pass the boy to some of the 20 or so onlookers, including Michael.

'Even then nobody thought to pull me in as I was too weak to walk in and I was almost swept out to sea by the current but just managed to do so and virtually collapsed on the beach.

'I was taken to Cromer Hospital and the following day the boy and his father came to my father's house and thanked me for saving their lives. There is absolutely no doubt these two would have drowned without my effort.'

Mr Levine said he would also love to meet the first family he saved.

? If you are able to put Mr Levine in touch with the boy, or any of the others rescued that day, please contact nnn.news@archant.co.uk

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