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RNLI Wells legendary lifeboat coxswain David J Cox BEM dies aged 96

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The RNLI station flag is being flown at half-mast in mourning for the renowned Wells lifeboat coxswain, David Cox, who died on Sunday.

During his long and distinguished service, he received five awards from the RNLI for courage, determination and excellent seamanship.

David was born in Wells-next-Sea in 1926 into a family of fishermen, a life which he inevitably followed. It took him on transatlantic cargo trips to America, fishing for whelks out of Wells harbour, and in time, becoming coxswain of the Wells lifeboat.

David Cox, renowned RNLI lifeboat man in Wells-next-the-Sea. Credit: RNLI
David Cox, renowned RNLI lifeboat man in Wells-next-the-Sea. Credit: RNLI

As a boy David would race to the beach when the launch maroons went off from the lifeboat house indicating danger at sea and help to launch the lifeboat. In 1945, at the age of 19, he volunteered as a member of the lifeboat crew, following in another family tradition. In 1960 David took over as coxswain of the lifeboat from his uncle, William Cox.

His most difficult rescue, for which he was awarded a prestigious silver medal, was on February 15, 1979 for his part in service to the Romanian cargo ship, Savinesti, with 29 people on board. The Romanian ship had engine failure 11 miles off the coast of Wells.

The weather was so severe that neither the Sheringham nor Cromer lifeboats could reach the ship. The Wells 37ft open lifeboat, Ernest Tom Neathercoat, launched and David and his crew reached the vessel, despite the lifeboat’s radar freezing and poor visibility because of the snow.

With the assistance of the Humber lifeboat, which escorted the Savinesti to safety, all lives on board the vessel were saved. In summary, David and his crew, all volunteers other than the mechanic, were at sea for 11 hours 24 minutes that night, in violent storm conditions with very heavy swell and unbelievable seas, poor visibility and sub-zero temperatures.

During his time as coxswain, he was also awarded a Vellum for the service to yacht Kiskadee in August 1964, a framed letter of thanks for the yacht Kalin in September 1966, a Vellum service to the MFV Pilgrim in tow of the tug Superman in October 1973, a bronze medal for MFV Sarah-K in November 1982 and a framed letter of thanks for service to the tug Dockman in April 1983.

David retired from his service to the lifeboat at the age of 60 in 1986, having handed on his vast knowledge of the sea and seamanship to the volunteer crew members who had joined under him.

Before he died, he recorded his memoirs, which have been a fountain of knowledge for the RNLI.

Lifeboat operations manager, Chris Hardy, said: "David was an inspiration as Coxswain to all lifeboatmen throughout the Institution, particularly for his courage and unwavering determination to saving lives at sea off our coastline.

"He actively continued that commitment throughout his retirement years and was a great ambassador for the RNLI, often recalling in great detail the difficult ‘shouts’ he had taken part in over the years, which totally captivated all those who were listening. David’s time served in Wells will never be forgotten and his longstanding contribution to the RNLI will live on in his memory – he was a legend!"

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