Viewpoint from Tony Mallion for 19th August 2011
Member of Cliff Park Church
Seeing the photographs and stories about the former Gorleston Lifeboat, the Louise Ste
phens, brought back a flood of memories, and the line of a Gilbert and Sullivan song.
She was built in 1939 and arrived just in time to become one 19 lifeboats to join the brave fleet of ‘small ships’ taking part in the Dunkirk evacuation a year later. She was the main RNLI boat for almost 30 years during which time, from 1948, my grandfather Bertie Beavers was its coxswain. Later my Dad joined the crew as assistant mechanic; my cousin Peter was also involved.
That family association continues with my brother a member of today’s crew. I lack sea legs, preferring to swim in, rather than sail on, the water. But I admire the courage of those who willingly and voluntarily go to the rescue of others in this way. As a youngster, I did my small part to keep the Louise Stephens spick and span. And here’s where the G&S bit comes in, with Sir Joseph Porter in HMS Pinafore telling of his rise to First Lord of the Admiralty.
Before he became the top brass he started in a small way, polishing the brass: ‘I polished up that handle so carefully, that now I am the Ruler of the Queen's Navy’ Nothing like that for me, but I did spend many a Sunday morning administering a tin of Brasso keeping this much loved lifeboat gleaming in the shed and ready for action.
My grandfather Bertie (his cousin, Percy, was to follow him some y
ears later as the final coxswain of this particular boat) was a fisherman who spent virtually all his working life in the port in one capacity or another. Before his period with the Louise Stephens he had been port pilot, including vital war time duties.
And it’s the work of the pilot, guiding vessels great and small into harbors and rivers, which recalls, for me, the story of Jesus and his disciples and the storm which suddenly blew up on Lake Galilee. It’s recorded in three of the gospels and the details are much the same. The disciples, mainly experienced fishermen, were nonetheless frightened by the ferocity of the storm, or a ‘furious squall’ as Mark records it. Jesus, exhausted after preaching to crowds, was asleep in the boat. They woke him and he calmed the storm.
While most will focus on the miraculous calming of the waves I am always more struck by the fact that, like a pilot, Jesus was there. He wasn’t on the shore or, on this occasion at least, walking towards them on the water. He was with them, in the boat, feeling the storm, sharing their concern, guiding them, and helping them to deal with it. ‘Why are you so afraid ? Do you still have no faith ?’ he said to them (Mark 4:40). He says the same to us today.
The lifeboat Louise Stephens was one of 19 lifeboats involved in the Dunkirk evacuation.
I polished up that handle so carefully
That now I am the Ruler of the Queen's Navy