Lyme Regis during the Second World War

Recalling our Royal National Lifeboat Institution

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These photos from a Family Album are undated. Next pages include “1933” in my mother’s handwriting. Since they are included in the album I’m thinking this was the boat in use when my father was a volunteer with the Lifeguards.

The lifeboat went straight into the ocean from the beach because The Harbor is tidal. At low tide all the boats in the harbor lay sideways on the sandy bottom.

The lifeboat was stored in a locked shed above the high tide. There was a long pair of rails, going down the beach to the waters edge. It took lots of men to drag the heavy boat to where it started to float. I remember witnessing this operation, but think that was when the men had a drill, rather than when an actual rescue was underway.

On some holidays the lifeboat was set out on display. That’s how I remember touching the heavy canvas sails, the neatly painted bright work and shiny brass.

During a storm the waves can be huge along the Cobb Wall. The lifeboat was kept on West Beach where the sand falls steeply towards the ocean and deeper water is closer to shore.

Boats with deep keels might wait days for a high enough tide to allow passage through the harbor entrance.

My Father was a member of the Lifeguards. He rarely told stories but I remember overhearing gossip, especially when I went shopping with my Mother.

Most shops kept a drop box or replica boat by the till. Children were encouraged to deposit small change.

When a siren sounded my Father dropped whatever he was doing and ran to the beach.

There was more than altruism in saving lives at sea. Fisherman watched the weather closely and were seldom caught in a storm. During the War, German planes returning from raids on our industrial Midlands sometimes ran out of fuel and a plane might crash into the English Channel. Each pilot captured was one more young, strong human to help on our farms, now run almost exclusively by women. The prisoners were housed in a camp and driven each day to a farm and picked up in the evening. With little incentive to escape the arrangement was to everyone’s benefit.

The Jerries (name we called the Germans) wove baskets and carved toys. They were sold in local shops until some people objected to Jerries making money. There was lots of discussion around town because we all loved their crafts. Finally, in true English ability to compromise, it was decided the Jerries could trade for fags (cigarettes) and sweets, but not for cash.