HM The Queen’s contribution to RNLI celebrated during UK Charity Week

UK Charity Week (5-9 December) – Exclusive

CHARITY Today has teamed up with the RNLI to bring you an exclusive report during UK Charity Week honouring Her Majesty’s extraordinary commitment to saving lives at sea and celebrating some of the most memorable moments they were privileged to share.

HM The Queen’s contribution to RNLI celebrated during UK Charity Week

A Lifetime of Devotion

When Princess Elizabeth became Queen in 1952, she also became patron of the RNLI, continuing a royal lifesaving legacy – a legacy left by our first patron King George IV 198 years ago and continued by every reigning British monarch ever since.

But Her Majesty’s devotion to the lifesaving charity started long before then.

In 1947, a 21-year-old Princess Elizabeth kindly donated £180 – the equivalent of almost £7,000 today – which was the balance of a wedding present from Kimberley in South Africa. The donation came ‘with her good wishes and those of the people of Kimberley’.

The following year she made another donation, this time from the royal wedding presents exhibition fund.

First Station Visit

On 27 June 1949, Princess Elizabeth became the first of the sixth royal generation to meet with RNLI lifeboat volunteers when she visited St Helier Lifeboat Station in Jersey. Just 3 months later on 13 September, St Helier lifeboat volunteers carried out one of the most courageous rescues since the end of the Second World War in 1945.  

The lifeboat crew braved perilous conditions to tow the yacht Maurice Georges and her crew of four to safety. The rescue earned Coxswain Thomas King an RNLI Gold Medal for Gallantry and his seven crew members Bronze Medals.

The Coronation

Lifeboat communities from all around the coast threw themselves into Queen Elizabeth II’s Coronation celebrations in 1953. Special events included regattas, pantomimes, exhibitions, dances and parades.

Four lifeboats took part in the Coronation Review of the Fleet by Her Majesty on 15 June at Spithead in the Solent. They included two of the 19 lifeboats that took part in the Dunkirk evacuation on 30 May 1940 – Margate RNLI’s Watson class lifeboat The Lord Southborough, Civil Service No.1 and Ramsgate RNLI’s Ramsgate class lifeboat Prudential. Two new lifeboats also took part – from Campbeltown and Flamborough.

The lifeboat volunteers joined the crews of more than 200 ships in giving three rousing cheers for Queen Elizabeth II as Her Majesty passed them on HMS Surprise.

HM The Queen’s contribution to RNLI celebrated during UK Charity Week

‘I Name This Ship…’

The Royal British Legion Jubilee

On 17 July 1972, Queen Elizabeth II became the first reigning monarch to name a lifeboat. Unusually, the naming ceremony for the Solent class lifeboat The Royal British Legion Jubilee didn’t take place at the coast.

It took place at Henley-on-Thames during the world-renowned Henley Royal Regatta, giving the public a chance to see the new lifeboat. The new all-weather lifeboat cost £70,000 to build, £51,000 of which was raised by members of The Royal British Legion to mark the charity’s 50th anniversary. The lifeboat went on to join the RNLI’s relief fleet, providing lifesaving cover around the coast of the UK and Ireland.

Her Majesty went on to name a further four lifeboats:

The Scout

On 14 July 1977 as part of Queen Elizabeth II’s Silver Jubilee celebrations, Her Majesty attended the naming ceremony of Hartlepool RNLI’s Waveney class lifeboat The Scout.  

Hartlepool Coxswain Robbie Maiden was just 10 years old at the time (pictured above, top right).  

Remembering that day fondly, Robbie says: ‘I had to present a big book about the RNLI and the Royal Family to The Queen. I was told she wouldn’t talk to me, but she did and asked me about the lifeboat. I told her my dad was the coxswain and that’s what I wanted to be. I was proud as punch!’

Her Majesty The Queen 

When Queen Elizabeth II visited  Fraserburgh Lifeboat Station on 22 June 1992 as part of the town’s 400th birthday celebrations, Her Majesty was presented with a cheque for £305,613 – the proceeds from the Police Appeal launched to mark the 40th year on the throne. 

The funds were put towards a new Mersey class all-weather lifeboat for the RNLI’s relief fleet which was named Her Majesty The Queen in honour of our patron. The naming ceremony took place on 16 July 1993 at Ramsgate’s Royal Harbour where Queen Elizabeth II proudly named the special lifeboat. 

Richard Cox Scott 

On 1 May 2002, Her Majesty named Falmouth RNLI’s Severn class all-weather lifeboat Richard Cox Scott as part of the Golden Jubilee tour of Great Britain. 

The lifeboat was principally funded by a legacy left by Ruth Marygold Dix Scott who passed away in May 1998. 

Sybil Mullen Glover 

2003 was a proud year for Plymouth RNLI volunteers. Not only did they celebrate 200 years of lifesaving at sea, but Queen Elizabeth II also visited the station on 23 July to name their Severn class all-weather lifeboat Sybil Mullen Glover

Her Majesty and HRH Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, were in town to present a new colour to the Royal Navy and added the naming ceremony to a busy schedule. 

Despite strong winds and heavy rain, the great British public turned out at Queen Anne’s Battery where the naming ceremony took place. ‘It was absolutely brilliant – the highlight of my career,’ reflects former Coxswain David Milford. ‘The weather couldn’t dampen it.’ 

The Sybil Mullen Glover is named after a local distinguished marine artist who passed away in 1995, leaving nearly half of the £2M cost of the lifeboat as a gift in her Will. 

HM The Queen’s contribution to RNLI celebrated during UK Charity Week

A Crowning Moment

Wednesday 28 July 2004 was a momentous day in RNLI history for three reasons. 

It was the day the Lifeboat College in Poole, now known as  RNLI College, officially opened.

233 lifeboat coxswains and senior helms – one from every RNLI lifeboat station across the UK and  Ireland – made RNLI history by coming together in the same place, at the same time, for the first time, to celebrate the occasion. And it was the day Queen Elizabeth II performed the official opening. Joined by HRH The Prince  

Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, and RNLI President HRH Prince Edward, Duke of Kent, the Royal Party was given a tour of the college’s training facilities, including a capsize demonstration in the Sea Survival Centre. They then boarded Castletownbere RNLI’s Severn class lifeboat Annette Hutton for a trip around Poole Harbour.  

Her Majesty’s words at the College’s official opening ceremony remain true today: ‘Having just seen some of the excellent training that is already being delivered, I am certain that the Lifeboat College will play a vital role in helping the RNLI to save even more lives.’ 

Extraordinary Commitment

On 25 July 2012, Her Majesty opened another of the RNLI’s lifesaving facilities – Cowes Lifeboat Station. 

The crew were delighted when Queen Elizabeth II, accompanied by HRH Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, signed the station’s lifeboat maintenance book as Coxswain and Mechanic! 

Queen Elizabeth II was also presented with a framed photo montage showing Her Majesty’s support of the Institution over 60 years. Her Majesty appeared genuinely touched. 

Welcoming Queen Elizabeth II to the lifeboat station, Cowes Lifeboat Operations Manager  Mark Southwell spoke about Her Majesty’s dedication: ‘You have exemplified “extraordinary commitment” throughout your reign. And I would like to think the volunteer lifeboat crew members of the Royal National Lifeboat Institution also demonstrate an “extraordinary commitment”, albeit on a more modest scale.’ 

Honouring RNLI Volunteers

Throughout Queen Elizabeth II’s  70-year reign, Her Majesty officially recognised the efforts made by hundreds of RNLI volunteers towards saving lives at sea by awarding them with prestigious titles of honour. But unofficially, Her Majesty recognised the efforts of hundreds more volunteers during all the RNLI events attended. 

Queen Elizabeth II celebrated the RNLI’s milestones. In addition to naming lifeboats, visiting lifeboat stations and opening RNLI College, Her Majesty hosted a special  Buckingham Palace Garden Party to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the RNLI.  

A Tribute To Her Majesty

Of the RNLI people lucky enough to meet Queen Elizabeth II, many commented on Her Majesty’s humanity, modesty and warmth. Her Majesty had an extraordinary way of bringing people and communities together. 

RNLI Chief Executive Mark Dowie pays this tribute to Her Majesty:

“For 70 years, Queen  Elizabeth II’s service as our Patron was a beacon for us to follow,  personifying the RNLI’s values of selflessness, trustworthiness, dependability, and courage in Her Majesty’s unwavering service and commitment to the United Kingdom and The Commonwealth.  

“Her Majesty was the longest-serving Patron in the nearly 200-year history of the RNLI. During this time, Her Majesty honoured the RNLI on many official occasions and recognised the efforts of thousands of volunteers during visits, through awards of National Honours, and the medals issued to operational personnel to mark the four Jubilees during her reign. During this time, RNLI lifeboat crews and lifeguards saved 65,979 lives.  

“Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II was a much-loved member of the RNLI family and her support for our lifesavers and our cause will never be forgotten.”

A Royal Lifesaving Legacy

In 1824, King George lV agreed to be the charity’s patron and graciously granted the royal prefix to the Institution’s name, making it the Royal National Institution for the  Preservation of Life from Shipwreck. 

Since then, every British reigning monarch has devoutly picked up the baton as RNLI patron. 

As the longest-reigning British monarch, Queen Elizabeth ll was also the longest-serving RNLI patron, dedicating 70 years to saving lives at sea. 

The RNLI is waiting to hear from The Royal Household on who will be the charity’s next Patron. In the meantime, they remain very well-served by the RNLI President, HRH The Duke of Kent, who has shown a steadfast commitment to the RNLI for the last 53 years. 

After almost 200 years, The Royal Family’s unwavering support for the RNLI appears stronger than ever.

This article also features in the Winter 2022 issue of Lifeboat magazine.