Is he a new larker?

   
 

A number of years ago Easington was home to the Coastguards and their families, and very much a part of the community. They carried out their duties of watch-keeping and co-ordinated any emergency or rescue along the coast. They were supported by a band of auxiliary Coastguards made up of volunteers from the village and surrounding area, and commonly known as the 'Rocket Crew' or L.S.A. (Life Saving Apparatus). This band of merry men formed from all occupations and age groups were on call at all times, and if required for service they were summoned by means of firing maroons. Two loud bangs over the village usually meant only one thing, 'Ship Ashore'. To keep this band of men 'honed to perfection' four practice drills were held each year. The drills were carried out mostly at Easington on the Humber side and this involved firing a large line carrying rocket to a post (an imaginary ship). The men hauled out a larger rope (the hawser), rigged up a breeches buoy (a lifebelt with a canvas seat in it), raised the hawser by means of a tripod, hauled the breeches buoy back and forth from ship to shore by means of two ropes known as whips, and theoretically rescued all the crew of the ship safely.

   
  The rocket firing apparatus ready on the cliff top
   
  The rocket firing apparatus ready on the cliff top
Photograph - Mike Welton
   
   
  The tripod and lines set up on the cliff top
   
  The tripod and lines set up on the cliff top
Photograph - Mike Welton
   
  The breeches buoy being lowered to the
   
  The breeches buoy being lowered to the "distressed ship" on the beach
Photograph - Mike Welton
   
  The rocket team was informed of a practice by receipt of this card
   
  The rocket team was informed of a practice by receipt of this card
Photograph - Mike Welton
   
 
  The rocket firing post at Sammy's Point, Easington in 1971
   
  The rocket firing post at Sammy's Point, Easington in 1971
Photograph - G Granger
   
  The rocket firing post at Sammy's Point, Easington as it is in 2008
   
  The rocket firing post at Sammy's Point, Easington as it is in 2008
Photograph - P. Martin
   
  The rocket firing post was not always used for its intended purpose
   
  The rocket firing post was not always used for its intended purpose
Photograph courtesy of - Ken Webster
 
   
 

One particular exercise had been arranged to coincide with a visit by the Chief Coastguard. Now this particular chap (the number one, top of the heap, the godfather) had more years of service than Methuselah, enough gold rings on his sleeve to reach his arm pit, more scrambled egg on his cap than Little Chef Restaurant serve for breakfast, and enough medal ribbons to decorate a Christmas tree. He watched impassively as the exercise was carried out, and all went smoothly (what else did you expect?). On completion we all assembled in our respective teams, four in all: rocket section, whip section, hawser section and anchor section. There were five men in each section, with usually three or four extra people who helped out and eagerly waited to fill any vacancy in this élite corps. The Station Officer and a Coastguard were also present to supervise the exercise.

   
  This fine band of men is the rocket team outside their Easington headquarters in the early 1900s, a few years before the incident reported in this article
  This photograph shows members of the rocket team in their Easington headquarters in the 1960s. The author of this article Mike Welton is the fourth from the left.
Photograph courtesy of - Mike Welton
   
  This fine band of men is the rocket team outside their Easington headquarters in the early 1900s, a few years before the incident reported in this article
  This fine band of men is the rocket team outside their Easington headquarters in the early 1900s, a few years before the incident reported in this article
Photograph courtesy of - P. Martin
 

The Head Coastguard passed favourable comments as to the exercise, in that all had gone correctly and carried out well, but he then said “What would you do if the hawser snapped?” Now luckily it was getting dusk, as a voice from the back said, “What is he asking us for, doesn’t he know? Is he a new larker or something?” Even in the diminishing light, I have never seen anyone change colour so rapidly, from pink, to red, to purple, nor seen anyone's veins bulged so much on their head quite apart from the steam coming from under his hat and out of his ears! "Whoever said that, I want him out here in front now!" he bellowed. Needless to say no one moved and everyone was desperately trying not to laugh. He stormed off the exercise ground with the Station Officer at his heels trying to pacify him and, I am sure, in fear of his future career, leaving us all to stow away the equipment. We still got paid a £1 at the end of the night! Those were the days!

   
 
   
 

Mike Welton
June 2008