Service was their watchword

ONE of the most memorable things that I will take away from the coronation was how strongly the concept of service ran through all the pageantry.

Several years ago I asked the watchkeepers at Peveril Point why they volunteered with NCI and one of our watchkeepers summed it up by saying: “The attraction is the wonderful outlook on the ever changing weather and sea conditions, the camaraderie and, most of all, the feeling that one is being of use to the community.”

Another said: “I have felt safe knowing we have teams of dedicated people who work tirelessly to keep our coastline safe. So, I decided to join them and be part of that unique team keeping our coast safe and secure, whether you are in a large vessel, yacht, dinghy or a family on the beach or walking the clifftop. I am there so they can always feel safe.”

I think it’s this attitude that was instrumental in both stations being awarded the Queen’s Award for Voluntary Service – soon to become the King’s Award. The QAVS was created in 2002 to celebrate Queen Elizabeth II’s Golden Jubilee. The award, often known as the MBE for voluntary groups, has been shining a light on the fantastic work of voluntary groups from across the UK for many years. It’s the highest award given to local voluntary groups in the UK, and they are awarded for life.

Both St Alban’s Head and Swanage can trace their roots back to the original coastguard stations with their history of volunteer coastguard auxiliaries. It doesn’t seem like two years ago that Ian Brown, station officer of the Swanage Coastguard Rescue team, was awarded the British Empire Medal. This is a prestigious award which recognises ‘hands-on’ service to the local community. With over 30 years’ service within the team, and well known for other work within the community, Ian was certainly a worthy recipient of the award. He follows in the footsteps of other local coastguard volunteers who have also been given this award.

We are particularly proud to be associated with Ian Surface BEM. Ian was born in Swanage in 1938. A carpenter by trade, he enrolled in the Coastguard in 1968 and became the auxiliary in charge – now known as the station officer – in 1975. Ian was involved in hundreds of rescues around Swanage and many people owe their lives to Ian’s skill and leadership of the rescue team.

In 1988 the team received a Chief Coastguard’s Commendation for recovering a deceased climber from caves near Anvil Point. This difficult and technical rescue was led by Ian, who was also the cliff man that day.

In February 1990, Swanage suffered major flooding and Ian led the other emergency services in helping people out of their homes.

When the coastguard station at Peveril Point closed in 1994, Ian was instrumental in working with the fledging National Coastwatch Institution in re-establishing a lookout on the site and, in April 1995, Swanage NCI came into being. Shortly after, largely due to his offices, the station at St Alban’s Head was re-opened. After Bass Point in Cornwall, our two local stations are the longest established lookouts in the NCI.

After nearly 30 years Ian retired from Coastguard in February 1998 and continued his excellent work with the National Coastwatch Institute at Peveril Point until his death in 2009, aged 71. Ian is remembered not only by a plaque on the station wall, unveiled in 2012, but by the present Lookout itself which he was responsible for rebuilding in the early 2000s.

Ian’s role has recently been taken over by Martin Jones, who was appointed station manager in May after serving for nine years as training officer.

In contrast to Ian Surface, Percy Wallace BEM came from Bristol. He was born in April 1895, the oldest child of Frank and Rhoda Wallace. After leaving school, he served an apprenticeship with Bristol Wagon Works, before becoming a blacksmith for a time.

With the onset of the First World War Percy joined the Navy and trained as a signaller. At that time the coastguard came under the Navy and George was seconded to the coastguard station at St Alban’s Head. It was there that he met local girl Dora Lander and they married at the end of the war.

Percy and Dora moved back to Bristol for a short while before returning to Worth Matravers where Percy became a full-time coastguard. As well as the British Empire Medal, he also won a Queen’s Commendation, a Royal Humane Society Medal and Carnegie Awards for bravery in saving lives from the sea and the cliffs.

He was also a lobster/crab fisherman, and his descendants still carry on this today. Watchkeepers at both stations regularly record fishing vessel Star of Hennock, owned by Geoff Lander, making its way along the Purbeck cliffs.

After Percy died, the villagers of Worth Matravers commissioned a small garden of remembrance to be built in the middle of the village. It stands inside a small copse of willow trees called withies. The withies were coppiced and the thin canes used to make traditional lobster pots.

This is St Alban’s Head and Swanage NCI carrying on a long tradition of keeping ‘eyes along the coast’ as well as listening on channel 65. NCI out.

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