Lifeboat award dedicated to gallant father

Tom Rowley Senior, pictured in 1973
Tom Rowley Senior, pictured in 1973

A recently decorated RNLI stalwart has dedicated the silver statuette he was awarded to the memory of his father.

Tom Rowley, 65, was presented with the honour “in recognition of his valuable help”, according to the legend at the bottom of the mini-statue.

Tommy Rowley of Scarborough RNLI with his RNLI citations and statuette.

Tommy Rowley of Scarborough RNLI with his RNLI citations and statuette.

The well-seasoned seafarer, of Longwestgate in Scarborough’s Bottom End, is one of three deputy launch authorities (DLAs) lifeboat station, along with Mick Bayes and Richard Craven.

“If there’s a shout, it’s up to us to help the coastguard decide which boat to launch”, he says. DLAs also deputise for the station’s new lifeboat operations manager, Steve Parker, in his absence.

“I’ve been looking forward to working with Steve, who has brought a lot of fresh ideas with him, and I’m looking forward to welcoming the new lifeboat and seeing the new lifeboathouse built,” Mr Rowley says.

Although never a regular crew member, Mr Rowley has been involved with the RNLI most of his life, on and off.

“If there weren’t enough crew available, I’d jump in with me dad in me younger days,” he recalls. Back then, rockets were fired in emergencies to summon the crew.

Mr Rowley remembers the lifeboat disaster of 1954, when the lifeboat turned over in the harbour mouth in a south-easterly gale.

“Dad was in a coble called Premier, which had been at sea that day but got home safe. The lifeboat was escorting all the other cobles back in.

“Old man Westwood pushed our door open and shouted ‘Lifeboat’s capsized!’ Dad’s chair fell over as he ran off,” says Mr Rowley, who was aged eight.

“I went down with my mother and stood on the West Pier looking for survivors. Three crewmen died. It was proper bad weather.”

The tragedy is remembered every year with a church service at St Mary’s.

Mr Rowley’s dad, also called Tom, had joined as a signalman in 1951, sending messages by morse code.

After the disaster, Denk Mainprize became cox, Bill ‘Jitta’ Sheader became second cox and Mr Rowley’s dad became bowman, succeeding those who died.

“Dad was on lots of shouts,” says Mr Rowley. “He went to the oil rig Neptune a mile and a half off Ravenscar, on a really bad night. The rig was in danger of collapsing. I went down to the boathouse but Jitta turned me away as there were already two Rowleys aboard and they never liked too many members of the same family on at once, in case the boat got into difficulties.”

Mr Rowley’s dad was promoted to second cox in 1958. In 1973, he had to take charge on a dangerous rescue off Cayton Bay, when the cox, Mr Sheader, was on holiday. A former motor torpedo boat was in serious difficulties in the middle of the night, in a force-10 gale. The mission took nearly four hours.

Tom Rowley Snr was awarded the RNLI’s bronze medal for gallantry and took three of his five children, including Tom Jnr, to London’s Royal Festival Hall, for the presentation ceremony. “It was a proud moment,” recalls Mr Rowley, whose 36 years as a fisherman included 23 as skipper of the Our Margaret trawler. For the last 14 years, he has been skipper of the Coronia pleasure boat, which he now helms three days a week in the summer.

Mr Rowley’s son and grandson are following in his maritime footsteps. His son Tom, 43, has been in the Royal Navy for 27 years and is a lieutenant commander and chief weapons officer on HMS Dauntless in the Falklands.

His grandson Tom, 21, is also in the Royal Navy and has just passed out at Plymouth. He is training in naval warfare.

Mr Rowley is a volunteer at the Maritime Heritage Centre in Eastborough, a cause close to his heart. His wife wife Lindy is vice-chair of the centre.