Lifeboatmen remember colleagues lost at sea

Flags flew at half-mast when lifeboat volunteers held a minute's silence to honour those who died while saving lives at sea.

Volunteers at the Sunderland Lifeboat Station held the moving tribute as part of a national event to mark the unveiling of a memorial to lost lifesavers.

The 778 people commemorated on the monument at the Lifeboat College, in Poole, Dorset, come from across the UK and Republic of Ireland.

Those from the North East include a lifeboat coxswain from Sunderland and crew from Seaham lifeboat station.

Paul Nicholson, senior helm at the Wearside station, said: "It was an emotional day and the memorial is a fittig tribute to those who made the ultimate sacrifice."

The five crew members on board the Seaham lifeboat George Elmy who lost their lives when the vessel was capsized by two huge waves just 30 yards from Seaham Harbour's south pier.

The incident happened on November 17, 1962, after the volunteers were called to rescue the crew of the fishing boat Economy, which had foundered in stormy seas off Dawdon Colliery.

The only survivor was one of the fishing boat's crew, who was washed ashore clinging to the propeller shafts of the upturned lifeboat.

John Todd and his father were both members of the RNLI at the time of the incident.

The shore crew member stayed behind while his dad, a 2nd coxswain also called John, was sent out as part of the rescue mission.

"They didn't want two members of the same family to go out in case something went wrong, so I was asked to stay behind," said John Jnr. "I'll never forget it.

"I remember them coming back from the rescue attempt. It shook us all up."

Also remembered on the memorial is former coxswain of Sunderland lifeboat station John Davison, who collapsed and died on May 11, 1910, while hurrying to the lifeboat station in anticipation of a service call being received.

His widow later received a grant from the RNLI and family member George Davison succeeded him as coxswain, maintaining the long line of Davisons serving at Sunderland lifeboat station.

Yesterday, relations, friends, RNLI volunteers and staff attended a ceremony of dedication in Poole.

The 4.5metre memorial sculpture of a person in a boat saving another from the water is inscribed with the family motto of the RNLI's founder, Sir William Hillary, "With courage, nothing is impossible".

RNLI Chief Executive Andrew Freemantle said: "The RNLI memorial is a tribute to the many people who have given their lives selflessly to save others over the last two hundred years."