As part of their heritage project where students are researching the history of Eastbourne’s fishing families they interviewed Paul Metcalfe to learn all about the history of Lifeboats in Eastbourne and the part that fishing families took in the rescuing of people in distress at sea.
Eastbourne Lifeboats started in 1822 after the tragic incident in people lost their lives off the Eastbourne shore. Witnessing this incident, Jack Fuller, a Member of Parliament for Sussex and philanthropist purchased Eastbourne’s first lifeboat.
It was usually the coastguards that would be called out to rescues and shortly after in 1833 the lifeboat crew were mainly made up from Eastbourne’s fishing families.
It was at the age of 34 that Paul first became a crew member for Eastbourne Lifeboats RNLI and when asked what made him join it was his passion for the sea. Paul goes on to say that his parents were both in the royal navy and so he appreciated the sea and had a love for boats as a young man. He was the only member of this family to join as a crew member however his son who also shared his passion for the sea was a fisherman for 15 years.
Paul stayed with Eastbourne Lifeboats RNLI until his retirement at the age of 70. During that time of service he helped to rescue 197 lives from the sea.
Some of this most memorable rescues that he shared with students where the ones that involved a Swedish yacht the Bianca D that had lost its mast in rough seas. During the very rough conditions the 10 force gale winds turned south-westerly so Eastbourne lifeboats began to tow them to Dungeness to get them out of the storm. A journey that took them 10 hours to complete until another lifeboat took over so they could land.
During the student interviews Paul talked with great passion about the Duke of Kent which has recently returned to Eastbourne. The Duke of Kent was Eastbourne’s Lifeboat between 1979 and 1993. Paul described it as a lovely boat that was quite slow. It only went up to 10 miles per hour at sea as opposed to modern lifeboats at 30 miles per hour.
Paul continued to share ‘She was pretty good on the sea. She had great stability’
Eastbourne is one of 137 RNLI Lifeboat stations that operate throughout the UK and is mainly run by volunteers who share Paul’s passion for the sea and also wanting to help others in their local community
Some of the students asked Paul about the role of women on the lifeboats and learned that it was the women that would be responsible for fundraising and some stations like Dungeness it would be the wives of the crew members that would launch the lifeboats down the slipway. It has been in the last 30-40 years that women have since joined the service however Paul isn’t aware of women crew in Eastbourne at this present time (although there have been some).
As Eastbourne now has a harbour the lifeboat is harboured however previous to that Paul explained to the students that Eastbourne had 2 lifeboat stations. The first lifeboat station was near the Redoubt and there was also one on Marne Road.
Paul was asked about the kind of rescues that take place and responded by saying that ‘In recent years it’s mainly pleasure boats that go sailing and fishing boat that run into problems. Eastbourne is one of the busiest lifeboat stations in the country and has gone out on 120 occasions. As Eastbourne has only 2 lifeboats one of the students asked Paul if there have been any incidents where more boats are needed and Paul began to share about the time the Eastbourne Pier was on fire and how 4 lifeboats where used and so help came from Hastings and Newhaven in addition to the in-shore lifeboat. Another incident was when a passenger liner was on fire in the Channel and together with Shoreham and Hastings Eastbourne Lifeboats were called to tackle the blaze.
One of the students ask Paul about the role of lifeboats during the war and they learned that the Eastbourne lifeboats went out to rescue downed airman that would be in the sea after their plane’s went own. One of Eastbourne’s lifeboats, the Jane Holland was sent to Dunkirk to rescue solders however it was hit heavily by machine guns and became adrift after being severely damaged.
The SS Barnhill was a steam ship that was bombed off Beachy Head in 1940 and it was Eastbourne Lifeboats that went to rescue the sinking ship where some of the wreckage is still visible today.
Paul retired at the age of 70 however Eastbourne Lifeboats RNLI is clearly his passion and he enjoys the opportunity to talk about his long service and to help raise funds for RNLI nationwide.
This week at the Secret Catch we will be interview Ted Hide as the students learn more about the history of fishing families in Eastbourne. We will also be learning more about Ted’s family tree in preparation for the exhibition taking place next year.
See you all in the Gallery at 3pm to learn more!