On Saturday, November 2 Mark Dowie, CEO of the RNLI, dedicated the new Pebble Memorial at Rye Harbour.
The day began with lashing rain and strong, gusting winds – a reminder of the much more ferocious storm faced by the crew of the Mary Stanford on November 15, 1928 when the Rye Harbour lifeboat launched.
It was altogether fitting, somehow, that the community memorial to the men who gave their lives trying to assist the stricken ship SS Alice from Riga, was to be dedicated on such an inclement day.
Eleven months ago Kt Bruce, lifeboat press officer at today’s station, had the idea of creating a modern memorial in the Harbour, wanting all sections of the local community to be involved.
Having sourced the pebbles from Long Rake Spar in the Harbour she got the backing of her LOM (lifeboat operations manager) Tony Edwards, and the requisite permissions from the Harbour Master, and so the project was born.
Thirty painting workshops later involving Brownies, Guides, Cubs, the Museum in Rye, the crew at the lifeboat station, villagers and local schoolchildren, 900 pebbles were ready to be cemented into a concrete pavement.
Local firms had provided the money for this project to flourish including Rastrum Wharf, Atlas Business Park, Martello Developments, Baxall, Inwood, Stamco, Boots the Chemist, Craft Magic, Rye Conservation Society, Craft Club, Trade Paints, Care Signs and Adams of Rye. It was a big scheme and this funding made it possible.
Geri Cottingham, a local artist, painstakingly painted the 17 stunning portraits of the gallant crew that form the centrepiece, while John Mills, a craftsman from the village, painted the letters spelling out ‘Mary Stanford’.
Ian Leroy-Lewis, a local plasterer and bricklayer, spent many hours creating the concrete block raised bed.
Nothing was easy from this point onwards as the concrete blocks needed to be cut to shape and they were as hard as nails. The weather decided to be as awkward as possible and October in the Harbour was the wettest month this year, but everyone soldiered on.
Baxall, a firm involved in the creation of the Discovery Centre on the Rye Harbour Nature Reserve, was terrific. Their workmen spent days getting everything ready and made the cement mix on October 22 when John Mills, Kt and her husband Martin, and Brennan from Baxall put the pebbles in place.
Alan Leigh of Baxall Construction has a personal connection with the RNLI, his father having been a long-serving coxswain at Littlestone Lifeboat Station and his brother currently volunteering there as a senior helmsman.
He said: “Baxall is extremely happy to volunteer and support the RNLI Pebble Memorial project in remembering the brave lifeboat men who lost their lives. We would like to thank the RNLI, and especially Kt for all her infectious energy and dedication.”
The day began with Kt explaining the project from its conception to completion and this was followed by Mark Dowie, CEO RNLI, dedicating the memorial. It was very emotional as he read out the 17 names of the crew who lost their lives.
Martin Bruce, Rye Harbour chairman, had written a shanty telling the Mary Stanford story to honour the crew and his group Round Rye Bay Singers then performed it for the first time. It was haunting and many listeners were moved to tears.
Chris Paine, of Martello Developments, said: “We were pleased to have been able to support and sponsor this community venture for the RNLI.
“The RNLI is close to many people’s hearts and the dedication and bravery shown by the 17 crew who lost their lives so tragically in 1928 is now recognised and honoured by this wonderful pebble memorial in the heart of the village.”
“This has been such a great project,” agreed Paul Bolton, current LOM at the station, “and has had my total support. I am proud of what Kt and all those involved have achieved and am grateful to Mark Dowie and his wife Hazel for coming here for the dedication. The memorial will bring visitors to the station where they will receive a warm welcome.
“Martin’s shanty will be performed again at the Memorial Service on November 17 at the church in the Harbour.”
Kt summed it all up by saying: “Eleven months of hard work and planning bore fruit today as the memorial was dedicated.
“I would like to thank my husband Martin for his support and coping with moving, washing and storing 900 pebbles in our home.
“I have had such fun and met some wonderful people on this journey.
“The comments from those who have seen it have been heart-warming and it is wonderful to think that this is now a permanent fixture in our village to pay tribute to the crew of the Mary Stanford.”