Coxswain ‘Dic’ Evans memorial looking out over the Moelfre Lifeboat.
Telegraph Obituary 18th Sep 2001
Richard Evans, who has died aged 96, twice won the Gold Medal of the Royal National Lifeboat Institution, during 50 years as a lifeboatman.
Evans won his first Gold Medal – the RNLI’s highest award for gallantry – in 1959, five years after succeeding his uncle as coxswain of Moelfre lifeboat, Anglesey. On October 27 1959, a strong southwesterly gale was blowing in Moelfre Bay, where the 500-ton coaster Hindlea lay at anchor. At 11 am the wind dropped, before veering to the north and increasing rapidly to hurricane force, with gusts of 100 mph.
Hindlea, a light ship with small engines, was now in great danger, caught on a lee shore with her anchors being dragged towards the rocky coast. By this time, Coxswain Evans and his mechanic were at the boathouse, but unable to muster a full crew as the storm had damaged telephone lines. Only two other regular crew members were available, and Evans was forced to recruit a shore helper who had never been to sea in a lifeboat before.
At midday, Evans launched the reserve lifeboat Edmund and Mary Robinson down the slipway and headed around Moelfre Island into the teeth of the hurricane. They found Hindlea riding to her starboard anchor which was dragging. The cable was being whipped out of the water as she pitched on the waves, which made an approach from seaward dangerous. She was swinging 90 degrees side to side, her engines racing. For an hour and a half, Evans waited as the huge seas battered Hindlea, able to do nothing until her master gave the order to abandon ship. When finally that order was given, Hindlea was in the breakers only 200 yards from the rocks.
Evans manoeuvred the lifeboat around the stern of Hindlea, uncomfortably close to the churning propellers, which were at times above the heads of the crew as Hindlea rose on the waves. As the lifeboat approached the ship’s port side, a wave heeled her over, putting her mast underwater for a time.
Approaching Hindlea’s port quarter, another huge wave lifted the lifeboat almost on to the coaster’s deck, before dragging her back into the sea. Evans took the lifeboat astern and clear, then ran in again, getting alongside and holding her there long enough for one of the crew to jump into the arms of his lifeboatmen.
Evans carried out this perilous manoeuvre 10 times, until shortly after 2 pm when all eight men on Hindlea had been saved, the only injury being a broken leg. Hindlea struck the rocks 35 minutes later and was lost.
For his bravery, Evans was awarded the RNLI Gold Medal, his mechanic received the silver medal, and the other three crew members the bronze medal.
The son of a sea captain in the merchant navy, Richard Matthew Evans was born at Moelfre on January 19 1905 and educated locally. He became a merchant seaman at 14, earning £2 a week. Aged 23 he was Master of MV Collin, taking cargo along the coast and to France.
On shore leave, he helped out in the Moelfre lifeboat, then a pulling-and-sailing vessel, whose crew he had first joined at 17. When his uncle became full-time coxswain, Evans reluctantly gave up his career at sea to run the family butcher’s shop, whereupon he became more fully involved with the lifeboat.
During the Second World War, Evans was second coxswain of the Moelfre lifeboat and a signals sergeant in the Home Guard. In 1940, he was awarded the Thanks of the RNLI on vellum for his part in the rescue of the entire crew of 60 from SS Geleden after she was torpedoed and ran aground in the Menai Straits. In 1943 he won a bronze medal for his part in the rescue of three airmen from a crashed Whitley bomber off Dulas Island.
Seven years after winning his first Gold Medal, Evans won a second after going to the aid of the Greek motor vessel Nafsiporos, which was disabled and drifting out of control towards Point Lynas. At 7.40 am on December 2 1966, Evans launched his lifeboat into a Force 10 storm to help a motor vessel with engine trouble, but he soon diverted to another, and was eventually called to assist Nafsiporos. It was not until 3.30 pm that he reached the stranded Nafsiporos, having struggled through terrible seas for several hours. He made a run in but had to sheer away because of a lifeboat hanging near the stern. He went in again, but none of Nafsiporos’s crew would jump. It took another run and a manoeuvre in which the lifeboat was held alongside before 10 of the crew could be persuaded to abandon ship. Another five were taken off by the Holyhead lifeboat.
By the time the Moelfre lifeboat reached Holyhead with the survivors, it had been at sea for 12 hours, and Evans – then aged 61 – had been at the wheel throughout. He was awarded a Gold Medal (Second Service Clasp), only the fifth lifeboatman in the history of the RNLI to have achieved this.
Evans retired in 1970. During his 50 years of service, the Moelfre station had saved 281 lives in 179 launches.
Besides his RNLI awards, Evans won the Queen’s Silver Medal for gallantry at sea in 1960 and the British Empire Medal in 1969. In 1978 he was made Honorary Bard at the National Eisteddfod, where an ode was written in his honour.
In retirement he spoke for the RNLI, and made regular appearances on radio and television, including This is Your Life and Parkinson.
He married, in 1933, Nancy Thomas; they had three sons.