Leader of Fastnet rescue passes away
The RNLI is mourning the loss of one of its most respected and decorated lifeboatmen, after former St Mary’s coxswain Matt Lethbridge passed away on Tuesday evening.
Lethbridge, 86, commanded the St Mary’s fleet during the rescue of boats in the 1979 Fastnet race and dedicated 40 years of his life to the RNLI.
Current RNLI St Mary’s coxswain, Andy Howells, said: ‘He was a true seafarer who was respected by all those who went to sea with him, including fellow coxswains all around the coast of the south west.
‘No words will adequately describe the calibre of the man, but he will be sorely missed by all those who knew him both within the RNLI family and beyond. We all send his family our deepest sympathies at this sad time.’
Lethbridge (pictured above with a bronze bust cast in his honour) was appointed coxswain at St Mary’s in the Isles of Scilly on July 1 1956 having been a crew volunteer for eleven years before, continuing a family tradition.
In Patrick Howarth’s 1981 book Lifeboat In Danger’s Hour, Lethbridge said: ‘At one time, Dad was coxswain, my uncle was second coxswain, I was the
bowman and my two brothers, Harry and Richard, and my cousin, James, were in her [the lifeboat] as well.’
His first silver medal came in May 1967, after rescuing 19 people from a sinking yacht, including an ITN television crew who were there to record Sir Frances Chichester arriving back in the UK aboard Gipsy Moth.
He went onto win many other RNLI awards, including two subsequent silver clasps, three Thanks of the Institution and a Framed Letter of Thanks from the chairman of the RNLI. He also featured on an episode of This is Your Life presented by Eamonn Andrews.
Tributes have poured in from Cornish coxswains.
Tommy Cocking, from St Ives lifeboat station, said: ‘Matt and I go a long way back as he was coxswain at the same time as my father.
‘Back when I worked as a fisherman, if I was ever stopping at St Mary’s I would visit his house for a cup of tea and listen to the yarns about the bad weather that the islands used to experience. I admired him greatly.’
Mike England, mechanic at Padstow lifeboat station, said: ‘Matt was a great man for whom I have a huge amount of respect, in fact my son, who is 12, was named after him.
‘He was a first class boatman and coxswain and a fine leader of men. He and my dad were very close and we spent a lot of time on the Isles of Scilly with Matt when we were children.’