Rain speared down from black skies, a howling freezing gale tore at the roots of the fishermen’s cottages by the shoreline, a boiling sea was thundering ashore with huge combers breaking over the rocks in a fury of spume. Out there tossing and corkscrewing among the huge waves lay the entire fishing fleet of Newbiggin, among them almost the entire lifeboat crew. Today was to be the day the women of Newbiggin, the fishermen’s wives, saved their men folk.
For over 180 years images of strong, selfless males have populated the reports and literature of the lifeboat service. What has not been so well documented or recognised are the roles that, right from the very beginning, women have played in working to save lives at sea. The stereotypical image is of women waiting in the lifeboat house for their men to return – brewing tea and giving encouragement and solace to each other. Look more deeply and it becomes clear that women have always been at the heart of the RNLI RNLI operation, undertaking a wide range of tasks which draw upon their distinctive skills and talents. From Victorian times right through to the twenty-first century, women have always been ‘strong to save’.
The RNLI is alive with outstanding women working alongside equally outstanding men, ensuring that as many people as possible who find themselves in trouble, either on or by the sea, live rather than drown. In Hidden Depths: Women of the RNLI, we begin to understand what magnificent feats of strength and teamwork these courageous and dedicated women have performed and still do.