Special feature and picture gallery: Man of the sea is a true hero of his community

There are few people who live and work around the north Norfolk coast who are not familiar with the name Allen Frary.

Reporter ADAM LAZZARI caught up with the Wells lifeboat coxswain and town council chairman...

With his bulging forearms and vast experience of the sea, Allen Frary is the sort of man most people would want close by when stranded and surrounded by crashing waves.

Mr Frary, 60, has been involved with the Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI) at Wells for 38 years and has been coxswain for 17.

His family's association with the Wells RNLI dates back to the 1800s, when his great-grandfather William Bell was a crew member.

Mr Bell was one of only two crew to survive the infamous capsizing of the Eliza Adams lifeboat on October 29, 1880, along with Thomas Kew.

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That fateful day saw 11 brave crew members lose their lives while out on a rescue.

Mr Bell had remained in the boat and was tangled in the lines until the mast snapped and the boat corrected itself.

Mr Frary's father Stanley was also an RNLI crew member, at Wells, his brother Michael, 56, is assistant mechanic for the Wells RNLI and his son Mark, 32, is deputy second coxswain.

His partner Bridget Marshall is the Wells RNLI's first female crew member.

Mr Frary is also well-known in the fishing community having worked as a fisherman with his brother for several years.

Before that, Mr Frary joined the Royal Navy, from school, served for five-and-a-half years and travelled the world.

He said: 'I joined the lifeboat crew as a volunteer in 1976.

'It was partly because of the family tradition but also, as a fisherman at the time, I thought you never know when you might need to help yourself.'

A well-known character on the north Norfolk coast, Mr Frary was thrust back into the limelight after the December 5 floods when he and his crew remained in the Wells boathouse, ready for action, when the highest tides in Wells's history arrived.

Mr Frary met Prime Minister David Cameron when he visited Wells in the aftermath of December's floods.

Of the countless call-outs with which Mr Frary has been involved, the one which stands out most prominently ended in the tragic deaths of two people he knew well.

On December 16, 1999 boat-builder William Cracknell, 39, who was the son of Wells lifeboat station secretary Richard Cracknell, and retired train driver Lionel Fortescue, 64, were making a routine four-mile trip along the coast from Burnham Overy Staithe to Wells in a 14ft wooden boat when they disappeared.

The Wells crew found Mr Cracknell's body that night and Mr Fortescue's body was found six days later, north of Sheringham lifeboat house.

Mr Frary said: 'They were both well-known in the local community and it was a very sad occasion, just before Christmas.

'That day sticks out in my memory because of the personal connections I had with the two men.'

The details of what happened remain a mystery to this day.

Mr Frary relishes recounting some of the more comical call-outs he has worked on.

He said: 'I don't know if it's just that lifeboat men have a certain sense of humour, but we always have a funny story to tell.'

One was on Mr Frary's first annual lifeboat service as coxswain.

He said: 'We had just finished the service and a call came in. I thought we would show the local clergymen and dignitaries what our work was all about, so we took them with us.

'It was a very calm, clear autumn evening but for some reason this Irishman was lost.

'It turns out he had no navigational equipment and he was trying to make his way down to Plymouth using just an AA road atlas.

'When we arrived he said, 'I know you lifeboat guys do a great job, but I wasn't expecting three vicars, a doctor and everyone in shirts and ties!''

One Christmas Eve Mr Frary was called to rescue King's Lynn fisherman George Johnson from Thornham Bay.

He said: 'We were called to reports of an engine failure, but the engine was fine.

'It was a foggy night, George was lost and he was worried he was going to get wronged off his wife because he had promised to take her out for dinner that night.

'I knew him from my fishing days and I like to remind him how we saved him from a telling off from his missus.'

Mr Frary is actively involved in many aspects of community life in Wells.

He joined Wells Town Council a few years ago and is now the council's chairman.

He gets involved with Wells Carnival as the Wells RNLI sponsors the carnival Queen.

As council chairman, Mr Frary picked up an EDP Pride in Norfolk runner-up award on behalf of the town in 2007.

But it is, perhaps, his work with the Wells RNLI for which Mr Frary is most well-known.

And he sees risking his life to help others as just part of his normal routine.

He said: 'I don't think about the dangers.

'It's a job I'm trained for, and I never worry too much about what could happen to myself.'

Do you know anyone who would make an interesting EDP Originals feature? E mail newsdesk@archant.co.uk

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