Wednesday, 7 January 2009

Robert Charles Brown BEM

Robert Charles Brown was born in 1901 and was known as Bob or Bobby. He began his long and distinguished career in the RNLI in 1917 at the age of 16. Whilst continuing his work as a local fisherman he became highly respected as a skilled boatman. On the 25th March 1934 he was appointed Second Coxswain of the lifeboat and his service record of this time states that he could, 'navigate East of the station to Newhaven and West to Fowey'. It added that he could read a chart.

During 1934 he received the Institutions Bronze medal in recognition of his part in the rescue of the yacht Hally Lise. On this rescue Bobby spotted an unconscious man in the water. Without hesitation, and still wearing his oilskins, lifebelt and seaboots, he jumped overboard and swam to the drowning man. He then supported them both until the lifeboat was able to turn and pick them out of the water.

In 1941, during the second world war, Robert Charles Brown was appointed Coxswain of the Swanage Lifeboat and served as such for 25 years before retiring in 1966 (having had his service extended beyond retirement age). He was later awarded the British Empire Medal for service to the RNLI. During his service he recieved various other awards too. Notably this one:

On the 31st, December, 1943, the Swanage life-boat rescued three lives from the French naval launch "Chasseur 5", which had capsized in a heavy sea when escorting a submarine. The men were clinging to her keel. On July I7th at Swanage an officer of the French Navy presented medals awarded by the French Government to COXSWAIN R. C. BROWN and each of the five members of his crew, the silver-gilt medal of the French Life-boat Society to COXSWAIN BROWN, and the Society s bronze medals to the bowman and motor mechanic. He also presented to Sir Godfrey Baring, Bt., chairman of the Institution, the cross of commander of the French Merite Maritime, and a plaque from the French Life-boat Society.

(Taken from the Lifeboat Journal Archive: War Years War Bulletin 25 - 1946)

A further interesting service resulted in the 'Thanks fo the Institution on Vellum':

At 1.55 on the afternoon of the 12th of December, 1955, the Swanage coastguard told the honorary secretary of the Swanage life-boat station, Mr. W. Powell, that the tug Flying Kestrel had passed a distress message to Niton Radio Station. The Flying Kestrel had had a barge in tow, but this had broken adrift off Poole Bar buoy and was driving ashore. There was one man on board the barge.

The Swanage life-boat R.L.P. was launched at 2.14. The sea was very rough, a gale was blowing from the east-south-east, and it was one hour before low water.

Breaking Sea Astern: COXSWAIN Robert BROWN made for the position, setting a course which would keep the life-boat well clear of Standfast Point at the southern end of Studland Bay. As he neared the buoy he saw the barge aground on Milkmaid Shoal, and once more altered course. This brought the wind and the breaking sea astern, and the drogue was streamed until the life-boat approached the barge. By then the time was 2.40.

The barge was aground on the seaward edge of the shoal, about half a mile from the shore, and was in six feet of water. Her head was to the north-north-east. COXSWAIN BROWN decided to approach the barge on the weather side because of the lack of water to leeward. He made one trial run, in which he passed close to the starboard side of the barge, but the lifeboat hit the bottom a number of times and was swept by the breaking sea.

Veered Down on Barge: After this trial run COXSWAIN BROWN decided that he must anchor and veer down on the barge. Using both engines he was able to manoeuvre the stern of the life-boat so that the survivor was able to jump aboard without injury. The man was rescued at 3.5.

The life-boat returned to Poole, where the survivor was landed at four o'clock.

As the weather would not allow her to be re-housed at Swanage she remained at Poole until the 15th of December, when she returned to her station.

For the good seamanship, sound judgment and initiative which he showed in handling the life-boat in difficult and dangerous circumstances, COXSWAIN Robert BROWN has been accorded the thanks of the Institution inscribed on vellum.

Rewards to the crew, £12 10
Travelling expenses, £2 2s

(Taken from the Lifeboat Journal: Volume 34, Issue 375 1956)

In due course he returned to service after a fashion when our current Mersey class lifeboat was named after him by his son Robert James Brown, the British actor famed for playing the part of 'M' in the Bond films between 1983 and 1989.

I wonder if in years to come we will be putting to sea in a lifeboat name the 'Martin Steeden', or the 'Christopher Haw'?


Anonymous said...

Fascinating stuff. Just out of interest, does the institution still pay out 'Rewards to the crew'?


lifeboatjohn said...

No it doesn't pay rewards to crew any longer, but I'm not exactly sure when they stopped.

I recall hearing somewhere that in days gone by the whole village would turn up to launch carriage launched boats. The head launcher would distribute 'tallies' to those who helped and these would be cashed in next time the Inspector arrived.

Robyn Corley said...

Didn't realize the life boat had stopped running. Bobby was my great great great uncle and many stories were shared through my family. We would go down to swanage for the day to see the life boat :).