RNLI Rye Harbour pays tribute to ‘true gentleman’

Alan Haffenden. Picture by Claire Sutherland SUS-190818-150233001
Alan Haffenden. Picture by Claire Sutherland SUS-190818-150233001

A community stalwart, who was instrumental in bringing back the RNLI to Rye Harbour, has died.

Alan Haffenden, 81, was born in Pains Cottage, Rye Harbour on September 19, 1937, and had a great deal of maritime experience, having served in the Navy for seven years from the age of 18.

Alan with Mick Caister and his brother Turps. Picture by Sheila Caster SUS-190818-150222001

Alan with Mick Caister and his brother Turps. Picture by Sheila Caster SUS-190818-150222001

He was the fourth child of six and grew up in the harbour: a true ’Harbour Duck’.

Alan passed away on Monday (August 12).

He married Joan in 1957 and they had three children: Lorraine, Gary and Mark.

In June 1966 Rye Harbour once again became fully operational after the closure of the station in 1928 following the Mary Stanford disaster.

Alan Haffenden in earlier years with the RNLI SUS-190818-150212001

Alan Haffenden in earlier years with the RNLI SUS-190818-150212001

A representative from the RNLI, Commander Cairns, came to the village and worked closely with Alan, Roy Gawn and Ron Caister to set up a new lifeboat station. A ‘D’ class lifeboat was delivered and trials began.

Local families came together to man the boat including Alan, his brother-in-law Richard Tollett, Terry Broocks, the three Caister brothers, Ron, Teddy and Dave, the Robus family and later Alan’s sons became involved.

Alan returned to the village in 1964 after his time in the Navy and this experience meant that he was in a strong position to take up the RNLI mantle.

The first Honorary Secretary, now known as the LOM (Lifeboat Operations Manager) was Dave Osborne.

Alan Haffenden, Keith Downey and Terry Broocks. Picture courtesy of RNLI Rye Harbour SUS-190818-150201001

Alan Haffenden, Keith Downey and Terry Broocks. Picture courtesy of RNLI Rye Harbour SUS-190818-150201001

When the maroon went off Alan’s mum would run to the boathouse to help launch the boat. Alan was on the crew for 21 years and then became a DLA (Deputy Launching Authority) and spent much of his time training new crew, including Trevor Bryant who recalls: “One of the nicest blokes I ever met.”

Alan’s brother-in-law Richard Tollett said: “I met Alan in 1967 when I started courting his sister Ann. When Ann and I got engaged I was promptly asked if I would like to join the lifeboat crew.

“I served the RNLI for nearly 50 years. He always instilled me with a lot of confidence and his calm and precise manner.

“He was also very good fun to be with. Alan was the helm on what can only be described as the worst ever weather that the ‘D’ Class launched into.

“A local yachtsman was drowned when he was washed overboard entering the harbour. The lifeboat was swamped and filled with water by a large wave as it attempted to come alongside the yacht. The lifeboat was washed ashore on Camber and all the crew were safe.”

Friends said Alan had time for everyone and would stop and chat as he took his dog for a walk often making people laugh, making newcomers to the village feel welcome.

Paul Bolton, LOM at Rye Harbour, a neighbour and a friend, said: “Alan gave so much to Rye Harbour RNLI and we owe him a debt of gratitude. His professionalism and willingness to train new recruits to the highest of standards ensured that the lifeboat station flourished. He will be sorely missed.”

KT Bruce, press pfficer for the lifeboat station, said: “In his life he was loved by all who knew him: in death he will still be loved.

“No one will fill his shoes in the village. There are many of us who will miss seeing him around, talking to him and laughing with him. And even more we will miss who we were when we were with him.”