This is a story which was related to me by one of Walton’s most loved and respected old timers.
Eric Brett, known to many as ‘Hector’, (but that’s another story for another day) has a wealth of stories about Walton that I never tire of hearing.
This event took place on 21st December 1945, before I was even a twinkle in father’s eye! Eric was home on leave from war-time service in Italy and his mother had sent him out from their home in Churchfield Road to get some last minute shopping before Christmas. He even remembers the time as being 16:40 hours. As he left his front door, Tom (Puggy) Bloom the coxswain of the EMED (The RNLI Lifeboat) petitioned him to lend a hand with launching the lifeboat as the maroons had just been fired.
Eric accompanied Tom to the boathouse where he was told to, "grab a life-jacket and belt". Protesting that he only required an oilskin to assist with the launch, Eric was told that a gale blowing and a crew of 12 was needed. He would have to make up the required number.
So, there was Eric, who had only popped out to the shops, being rowed in the boarding boat from the pier end to become an unsuspecting member of the lifeboat crew heading to the Gunfleet Sands in a force eight gale.
The casualties were two Mine Finding Vessels (MFVs) aground on the sands which the lifeboat reached around low tide. "The vessels were lifting and rolling quite badly as the Coxswain turned the lifeboat around to go astern onto the sands", recalled Eric. "The Bowman, Ted Oxley, shouted to the Petty Officers asking if they wanted to get off but they decided to wait to see if they could refloat when the tide rose". At this point Coxswain Bloom moved the lifeboat back into deeper water and stood by.
After a short while a flashing Aldis lamp signaled that the sailors had changed their minds and wanted to be taken off. The lifeboat moved closer and as it approached a large waved rolled MFV611 striking the lifeboat’s stern wrecking its steering gear. Coxswain Bloom continued manoeuvring the lifeboat by using only the engines. Six crew were rescued from MFV611 and then another five from MFV96.
To enable the boat to steer its way back to shore Ted Oxley, with two men holding his legs, was dangled over the stern to secure a rope to the rudder. A man pulling on each end of the rope enabled the lifeboat to steer a course back to Brightlingsea where the eleven rescued were landed.
The lifeboat then had to go immediately to Rowhedge for repairs from where Eric eventually caught a train and arrived home in Walton on 22nd December at 17:00 hours. He returned to Italy on Christmas Eve with quite a tale to tell his mates.
The RNLI awarded 65-year-old Coxswain Tom Bloom a second service clasp to his Bronze Medal for this service and Eric’s mum never did get the eggs she had sent him out to buy! .
See these and many more pictures in the Walton Archive at www.putmans.co.uk/oldwaltonindex.htm