Awards of the Royal National Lifeboat Institution

A number of Royal National Lifeboat Institution awards have been established by the Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI) since its creation in 1824. None are approved by the Crown, and are therefore unofficial awards. As such, they do not appear in the official British order of wear,[1] although the principal lifesaving award, the Medal of the RNLI, can be worn on the right breast in uniform by members of the British armed forces.[2]

RNLI awards

The RNLI awards include:

Medal of the RNLI

RNLI Medal, version awarded 1862–1902
Ribbon: RNLI Medal and Decoration

The medal was established in 1824, the same year the RNLI was founded, to reward "humane and intrepid exertions in saving life from shipwrecks on our coasts, deemed sufficiently conspicuous to merit honourable distinction".[3] The medal can be awarded for saving life at sea in gold, silver and, since 1917, in bronze.[4]

While awards are now only made to lifeboat crew who risk their lives in rescue attempts,[5] a number of nineteenth century medals were bestowed on others who saved life from the sea. These included coastguard officers[6] and those who affected a rescue by wading or swimming into the sea from the shore.[7]

Apart from the metal of manufacture, the design of the three classes is the same. When established in 1824, the obverse bore the effigy of King George IV, the first patron of the Institution. In 1862 this was changed to a profile of Queen Victoria, with changes to Edward VII in 1902 and George V in 1911. In 1937 Royal permission to portray George VI was refused, as the award is not granted by the Crown, and since then the profile of the RNLI founder Sir William Hillary has been used.[8]
The reverse, designed by William Wyon, shows three sailors in a lifeboat rescuing a fourth from the sea, below the inscription "Let not the deep swallow me up" taken from Psalm 69.[9] The reverse of the Edward VII version shows a figure of Hope adjusting the lifejacket of a lifeboatman. The original reverse was restored for issues from 1911.[8]
The medal is engraved on the edge with the name of the recipient and the date the award was approved.[8]
The very first medals were presented without any means of suspension, and then with a suspension loop for the plain dark blue ribbon. Since about 1852 the current suspension, in the form of two dolphins, has been used, and additional awards in the same class have been recognised by clasps attached to the ribbon.[8]

Up to 2004, a total of 150 gold, 1,563 silver and 791 bronze medals had been awarded.[4] Recipients of the Silver Medal have included Grace Darling, who achieved national fame in 1838 when she took part in her lighthouse keeper father's rescue of nine people whose ship had run aground off the coast of Northumberland coast. Her father, William Darling, also received the Silver Medal.[10]

RNLI Decoration

The Decoration of the Institution was awarded for conspicuous and special services to the RNLI, other than actual personal life-saving.[11] Established in 1901, many awards were made for long and devoted service by Branch Honorary Secretaries and Ladies Auxiliaries.[12]

A new design was approved in 1912, to be awarded in both gold and silver. Awards were discontinued in May 1914 after objections were raised by King George V that the decoration, a private award without Royal sanction, conflicted with the principle of the Crown as the fount of honour.[12]

The decoration of 1901 was a circular gilt medal 27mm in diameter and surmounted by a crown. It depicts a lifeboat going to the assistance of a sailing ship in distress, surrounded by a white enamel lifebelt bearing the words Royal National Lifeboat Institution. The reverse in plain. It is suspended from a plain dark blue ribbon, shaped in a bow when worn by women.
The 1912 design, manufactured by Garrard & Co of London, was a stylised cross in dark blue enamel, with the letters R N L I in the angles of the cross, interlaced with a rope.[12]

RNLI Long Service Medal

Established in 2020, it is awarded for twenty years service with the RNLI, either as crew or as a support volunteer, and replaces the award of enamel lapel badges. Clasps, attached to the ribbon, are presented to mark each further period of ten years service. Clasps are inscribed 30, 40 50 or 60 Years, as appropriate. By September 2020, a total of 733 medals had been issued, including several with the 60 Year clasp.[13]

The medal is circular and is struck in silver-plated base metal. The obverse shows the left-facing bust of the RNLI founder Sir William Hillary, surrounded by the words Royal National Lifeboat Institution. The reverse shows a representation of two outstretched hands clasped above a raging sea with, on a surrounding band, the inscription "With courage nothing is impossible". Each medal is named to the recipient on the rim. The ribbon, suspended from a fixed straight suspender, is navy blue with narrow red and yellow edges, the colours of the RNLI.[13]

Other awards

Notable service that does not justify the award of a medal can be rewarded with either the "Thanks of the Institution Inscribed on Vellum" or a "Framed Letter of Appreciation".

The RNLI have also established a number of awards that can be awarded to groups, including boat crews. Examples include the Ralph Glister Award, inaugurated in 1968, awarded annually to a rescue boat crew who have given outstanding service;[14][15] and the Walter and Elizabeth Groombridge Award, established in 1986, given annually for the most meritorious rescue carried out by an inshore lifeboat crew.[16]

Official awards to the RNLI

Members of the RNLI have also received a number of official awards, both for gallantry and distinguished service. These include Henry Blogg and William Fleming who both received, in addition to a number of RNLI awards, the George Cross;[17] and Edward Parker and Howard Primrose Knight, both awarded the Distinguished Service Medal for their "gallantry and determination when ferrying troops from the beaches" during the 1940 Dunkirk evacuation.[18]

Members of the RNLI are regularly appointed to the Order of the British Empire, including awards of the British Empire Medal, for both maritime safety and charitable services.[19] In addition, serving RNLI lifeboat crew with five years operational service were eligible for the Queen's Jubilee Medals of 2002, 2012 and 2022 on the same basis as members of government run emergency services.:[20][21]

Notes and references

  1. ^ "No. 56878". The London Gazette (Supplement). 17 March 2003. p. 3351.
  2. ^ Dorling 1956, p. 14.
  3. ^ Dorling 1956, p. 130.
  4. ^ a b The Life-Boat 2004, p. 13.
  5. ^ Duckers 2013, p. 109.
  6. ^ For example: In 1832 a silver medal was awarded to coastguard who saved crew of a wrecked sloop. "Station history". rnli.org. Retrieved 29 January 2021.
  7. ^ Examples of silver medals: "1847: Two sisters waded into a stormy sea to rescue 3 men from stranded smack. "Fishguard Lifeboat Station". Historypoints.org. Retrieved 29 January 2021. 1884: A woman on shore held onto a rope in a storm, allowing 15 crew of ship to get ashore. "The woman who saved 15 sailors from drowning". BBC News. 10 August 2018. Archived from the original on 10 August 2018. Retrieved 10 August 2018."
  8. ^ a b c d Mussell 2014, p. 336.
  9. ^ The Life-Boat 1860, p. 257.
  10. ^ The Life-Boat 1860, p. 258.
  11. ^ The Life-Boat 1907, p. 105.
  12. ^ a b c Mussell 2014, p. 321.
  13. ^ a b Farrell 2020, p. 340.
  14. ^ "RNLI: Ralph Glister Award". RNLI. Archived from the original on 29 November 2014. Retrieved 22 December 2020.
  15. ^ "Open Charities - Ralph Glister Award". Open Charities. Retrieved 22 December 2020.
  16. ^ The Life-Boat 2010, p. 15.
  17. ^ "No. 32953". The London Gazette. 4 July 1924. p. 5157. (Both awarded the Empire Gallantry Medal, later exchanged for the George Cross.)
  18. ^ "No. 34953". The London Gazette (Supplement). 24 September 1940. p. 5711. "Margate's Coxswain named as Edward Drake Palmer".
  19. ^ For example in the 2015 New Year and Birthday Honours lists, the RNLI received a total of 1 OBE; 6 MBEs and 2 BEMs.
  20. ^ Myers 2003, p. 89.
  21. ^ "Platinum Jubilee Medal revealed". Gov.uk. Archived from the original on 24 September 2021.

Sources and further information

  • Cox, Barry, ed. (1998). Lifeboat Gallantry, The Complete Record of Royal National Lifeboat Institution Gallantry Medals and how they were won. 1824-1996. Spink & Son Ltd., London. ISBN 0907605893.
  • Dorling, Captain H. Taprell (1956). Ribbons and Medals. A.H.Baldwin & Sons, London.
  • Duckers, Peter (2013). British Military Medals. Pen & Sword Books Limited. ISBN 978-1-47382-983-1.
  • Farrell, Tony (December 2020). "Royal National Lifeboat Institution Long Service Medal". Orders & Medals Research Society Journal. 59 (2). ISSN 1474-3353.
  • Mussell, J., ed. (2014). Medals Yearbook – 2015. Token Publishing Limited, Devon. ISBN 978-1-908828-16-3.
  • Myers, J.A.L. (June 2003). "Golden Jubilee Medal – Royal National Lifeboat Institution". Orders & Medals Research Society Journal. 42 (2). ISSN 1474-3353.
  • "The Medal of the Royal National Life-Boat Institution". The Life-Boat. 4 (36). April 1860.{{cite journal}}: CS1 maint: date and year (link)
  • "The Decoration of the Institution". The Life-Boat. 20 (224). May 1907.{{cite journal}}: CS1 maint: date and year (link)
  • "Lifeboats and Lifeguards In Action". The Life-Boat. 59 (570). Winter 2004–05.{{cite journal}}: CS1 maint: date and year (link)
  • "Groombridge Award". The Life-Boat. 61 (593). Autumn 2010.{{cite journal}}: CS1 maint: date and year (link)
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