One of this writer’s most enduring memories of the time when she li ved in England is the measured tones of the BBC Radio announcer
as he read the shipping forecast just before the 6PM news.
The names were a roll-call of the sea: Hebrides, Rockall, Lundy, Fastnet, Shannon, Sole, Finisterre, Fair Isle, Cromarty, Dogger, Tyne, Dover, Portland
… and all of them of vital concern to men at sea.
Even with these advance warnings, however, ships founder, and lifeboats must be launched.
Incredibly, as recently as the eighteenth century, there were practically no coordinated efforts to save shipwrecked people
(although lifeboats built specifically for the purpose existed), and certainly no national organization to carry out this work.
Jn 1824, following the publication of “An Appeal to the British Nation,” by Sir William Hillary,
who li ved on the Isle of Man and had himself helped rescue more than three hundred people, the National Institution for the Preservation of Life from Shipwreck was formed.
It was organized on a purely voluntary basis, since it appeared that the government was ignoring the problem.
In 1854 the name was changed to the Royal National Lifeboat Institution , by which title it is still known.
At the same time, voluntary contributions having declined, the Institution was granted a Board of Trade subsidy.
Eventually, as contributions increased, this subsidy was withdrawn and since then,
the RNLI has been completely independent, supported entirely by gifts, and various fundraising efforts.
A professional salaried staff oversees administration and the maintenance of the boats, but everyone elseincluding the lifeboatmen and womendonate their services.
A number of different fundraising events take place annually-a recent list included parachute jumps, rowing relays and a fancy dress football marathon; cheese and wine parties;
and a race to get crates of Nouveau Broon ale from Newcastle-on-Tyne, where it is brewed, to Paris.
One man even allowed people to use his shaved head as a notepad!
But the best known of thelnstitution ‘s fundraising efforts are their Flag Days, whose roots are in the first street collection for charity ever organized.
The story of how this came about hinges upon what is regarded as the worst disaster in the history of the Institution.
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