Alan Butler - to receive an RNLI award for his services
Weathering the storms
Among the thousands of members of
the Craft who devote their spare time
to charitable works, Alan Butler has put
his Masonic philosophy into practice with
the Royal National Lifeboat Institution
(RNLI) Southend-on-Sea Station.
A member of Earl of Zetland Lodge
No. 1364 and Southend Daylight Lodge
No. 9723, he joined RNLI Southend in
1968 and became publicity and press officer.
Lifeboatmen are the original reluctant
heroes, and were loth to relate their
experiences and actions for publication.
Over the next 33 years, while also
involved in international banking in the
City of London, Alan won and retained the
trust of the crews, and was able to publicise
the many rescues performed by Southend’s
lifeboats in the Thames Estuary.
A Mason for 53 years, Alan says: “The
RNLI is a very easy charity to work for
because the end result is so positive. There
are 12 people walking around Southend
this year who would not be there but for
the local lifeboat crews”.
For example, on one occasion, Southend’s
Atlantic-21 class lifeboat Percy Garon II was
launched in appalling weather conditions
of force 7-8 winds gusting 50 knots – and
confused seas – to go to the assistance of a
25-foot racing yacht First Knight, drifting
helplessly with a smashed rudder off the
Maplin sands, 15 miles east of Southend pier.
After an hour at sea, the lifeboat found
the stricken craft with the two crew
suffering exhaustion and exposure.
They secured a towline and recovered
the male and female crew.
The lifeboat then set course for Burnham-on-Crouch to safely land the casualties and
secure the yacht. The crew then returned
to Southend in very rough seas, eventually
arriving some six hours after the initial call.
A lighter incident occurred when the
lifeboat was launched in thick fog to assist
11 horses and riders from a riding school that
had become lost in fog on the Maplin sands.
With the incoming tide threatening to
cut them off from the shore, they were very
thankful when the lifeboat found them and
a crewman lead them to the safety of the
shore. As a result, the crew were nicknamed
the “Rodeo kids”
From these typical reports it will be readily
appreciated that RNLI lifeboat volunteers
are a special breed and put into practice
“Brotherly love, relief and charity”, and in
some instances have paid the ultimate price.
Alan was also part of the behind-the-scenes
group organising fund-raising events.
In 1979 the Southend station celebrated
its centenary, and he arranged displays at
football grounds, exhibitions, film shows and
shop window displays to publicise the event.
For 16 years one of the most popular
seafront attractions was the annual Southend
Charity Raft Race, which attracted
thousands of visitors each year, in which
Alan was the race commentator throughout
its existence. The raft race raised sufficient
monies to fund three D class inshore lifeboats.
There were also several Royal visits
to the Station. The Duke of Kent, in his
capacity as the RNLI President, paid
an inspection visit to Southend and the
fishermen among the crew presented him
with a box of locally caught Dover soles.
By now the value of a press officer at
local level was acknowledged by the RNLI,
and Alan was asked to join a working party
to draw up a media skills handbook for use
throughout the Institution. As a result, the
office of Honorary Station Press Officer
(HSPO) came into existence in 1998 with
responsibilities for both operations and
In 2000 Alan took over as chairman of
the Station executive committee following
the sudden death of the previous chairman,
and in 2002 he retired to become a vice-president,
but is still shaking a collecting
box on Flag days.
During its 37 years of active service to
RNLI Southend, the lifeboats have saved
over 1,200 lives and raised more than
£2 million in charitable funds.
In recognition of his long and dedicated
service, the RNLI awarded Alan Butler
with their Gold Medal, which will be
presented to him at the Barbican in the
City of London in May.
Web site created by Mark Griffin