1945: A Notable Lifeboat Makes Her Final Rescue of WWII

August 16, 1945

In England, the lifeboat Foresters Centenary was taken out into the North Sea to help dozens of people who were stranded together on a vessel. This operation was only one of many rescues undertaken throughout the years by the lifeboat in the waters off England’s eastern coastline.

On that summer day in 1945, there were celebrations in the seaside town of Sheringham to mark the de facto Allied victory over Japan that brought the hostilities of World War II to a close. (Japan’s surrender would become official onboard the U.S. Navy battleship USS Missouri early the following month.) As a part of the festivities, the one-time lifeboat Henry Ramey Upcher was used to transport 60 passengers to a commemorative regatta being held in the area. Things did not go exactly as planned on that Thursday morning, however. Henry Ramey Upcher, trying to make her way through choppy waters, was approximately two miles (3.2 kilometers) off the coast when she ran up against powerful westerly winds.

As a result of these winds, the crew of Henry Ramey Upcher was not able to steer the vessel any further ahead or return her to shore. Foresters Centenary was launched at 11:45 a.m. to rescue the beleaguered boat, and managed to tow her and everyone on board to safety in Sheringham within 45 minutes. This lifesaving operation has been highlighted as the final one performed by Foresters Centenary during the war.

Foresters Centenary was part of the fleet of the Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI), a large-scale charitable organization that was founded in 1824 to conduct maritime rescue operations. RNLI remains focused today on lifesaving missions at sea and on several inland waterways in the vicinity of the United Kingdom, the Republic of Ireland, the Channel Islands, and the Isle of Man. Foresters Centenary made her debut as one of RLNI’s Liverpool-class lifeboats in a July 1936 ceremony that was attended by thousands of people. She was christened by Sir Roger Keyes, a member of the British Parliament who had served as a longtime Royal Navy officer and achieved that military branch’s highest rank of admiral of the fleet.

Only about a month after her launch, Foresters Centenary carried out her first rescue when she towed an exhausted fisherman to safety after his boat had become stuck out at sea in rough weather. It was with the outbreak of World War II three years later, however, that the stage was set for Forester Centenary to truly come into her own and earn a more enduring and even legendary reputation as a lifesaver. The vessel performed a total of 56 rescue operations during the course of the conflict. Since 34 of those operations involved helping out downed planes and their crews, Foresters Centenary became widely known as the “Airmen’s Lifeboat.”

One especially notable wartime lifesaving mission took place in the fall of 1942 when Foresters Centenary came to the rescue of six Polish airmen after their plane ended up in waters just northeast of Sheringham. The plane, which was a Handley Page Halifax bomber piloted by Stanislaw Klosowski of the Polish Air Force, was flying back to England from an arms supply drop over Nazi-occupied Poland when it was severely damaged by German night-fighters. After the crew was forced to bring the battered plane down into the North Sea, Foresters Centenary managed (albeit with some difficulty) to find the location of the crash site and safely retrieve all of the airmen.

After the end of World War II, Foresters Centenary remained in service for another 16 years. By the time she was retired, the lifeboat had undertaken 129 rescue operations altogether and saved more than 80 lives in the process. This lifeboat, which has been restored to her original condition, can now be seen at a museum in Sheringham.

For more information on the lifeboat Foresters Centenary, please check out https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/RNLB_Foresters_Centenary_(ON_786).

Additional information on the August 1945 rescue of the vessel Henry Ramey Upcher by Foresters Centenary is available at https://lifeboatmagazinearchive.rnli.org/volume/war-years/1945/the-private-life-boat-henry-ramey-upcher?searchterm=royal+family&page=909.

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