Time and Tide: Oral Histories

Dan, Denis and Andy

Name: Dan, Denis and Andy – Volunteers with Walmer RNLI (Kent)
Year of birth: 1990 / 1952 / 1949
Place of birth: Wick, Scotland / Deal / Deal
Place of residence: Walmer / Deal / Deal
Occupation/s: Handy man / Manager of furniture store & Lifeboat Operations Manager (Volunteer) / Manager of a Cruise Terminal

We had a chat with Dan, Denis and Andy of Walmer RNLI. Between them, Denis and Andy have more than 100 years of experience with the lifeboat.

‘You have to have respect for the sea. The sea is powerful. It can rip you apart at any given second. You’ll never beat it.’

‘You can have the flattest, calmest day and anything can happen. It can turn like that. If you don’t treat it with respect, it certainly isn’t going to treat you with respect, it can swallow you up.’


Denis: ‘I started out on the fishing boats at Deal. The boatmen then were all connected with the lifeboat, it was a recognised thing. I was encouraged to come up and help. … Found I was enjoying it and progressed with it. Come 45 I had to retire off the boats … it’s 55 now. They found they were losing a lot of experience at 45 … your body does take a bashing, a hammering in the boat.’

Andy: ‘I was in the Cubs at the Sea Scouts, I didn’t want to progress to the Sea Scouts but I spent all my time there, going out in canoes … The ILBs [Inshore Lifeboats] were taking off and I started on that.’

Dan: ‘I had no seagoing background, no-one in my family has ever done anything like it. My grandad was in the Navy, my uncles were in the Navy but I never had any seagoing. I remember doing chart work up here when I first started, and the chap up here at the time said to me ‘You do know your port and starboard, don’t you?’, I said ‘No’ and his words were ‘…! We’ve got out work cut out!’ But I’ve stuck it out for eleven years.’


‘Walmer Lifeboat station and the Goodwin Sands go hand in hand.’

‘It varies. Sometimes you get one shout a year, sometimes you get a shout every time.’

‘There’s certain shouts that will stick with you forever.’


‘Sometimes your pager goes off at 3 in the morning, and you have to scoop a body out of the water. … It’s not all like that but that can hit home with people.’

‘It’s a commitment. It’s a very big commitment.’

‘Years ago, most people that come were off the beach, so they were used to the waters, understood the tides, or were fishermen, and all round the country now that fishing has declined. When I was going fishing there was 30 or 40 boats out on a Saturday or Sunday.’


‘When the pager goes off – it’s an adrenalin rush. It’s a heart attack waiting to happen. When I’m asleep at night my heartrate rests at about 39, I live so close to the station that that pager goes off and I’m here usually within two minutes. So I’ve gone from being fast asleep to sprinting to the station, and my heart rate is now at about 180 odd. It’s unbelievable, from being fast asleep to being fully awake.’

‘Every day, wherever I am working, I work out the quickest route to the lifeboat station. I park my van facing the station, do anything I can. It’s always in the back of my mind. Every day, even if you walk to town you think how am I going to get to the lifeboat station if I get a shout. Nine times out of ten I’ll just flag down random cars and get in there. If I haven’t got a car, I just get in someone else’s car. Do whatever I can to get here.’

‘But you can’t speed here. The RNLI’s policy is “Why take a life to save a life”.’


‘Longest one we had recently, the boat went to Dunkirk. The idea was to go to Dover and see them out of the harbour, … went further and further, looking after them, and they went all the way to Dunkirk and come back the next day.’

‘Frightening one I remember, we was trying to get to a yacht on the sands, wind blowing up a bit, there was a swell, suddenly the sea just got hold of us and Bruce shouted ‘Hold tight!’ and the sea just took us straight across the sands, past the yacht, couldn’t stop. That was probably my most frightening time, you just had no control. Bruce was a big old boy holding that wheel and there was just nothing he could do. Just took us.’

‘Do you remember that one when we took four people off that dinghy, Bruce and I? It was only about a quarter of a mile out, in the D Class and they were on their last legs. The helicopter come over to take them, and you could stand up in the D Class and touch the helicopter, because he knew he had to be that quick to get the two ladies out. The water was cold, it was quite early in the season. That was quite an experience.’

‘Only time I was worried we went for a cabin cruiser, we were just going up towards Kingsdown and I found out I was in a hole, just a hole appeared in the sea. I had to power out of it. That was strange. Suddenly threw you.’

‘On that map of the Goodwin sands, with all the wrecks, you can’t put a pin between them.’

‘Worst is when you do a search or a red flare and you don’t find anything. You think have I missed something, should I have gone there. When I was cox’n that was the worst. You can have covered so much water but you still think perhaps I should have gone there, at the back of your mind. When you don’t find something that’s probably worse. Definitely.’