During my family summer holiday, I visited the lifeboat station in Wells-next-the-Sea.
As the Minister for Shipping, my responsibilities include oversight of the Maritime Coastguard Agency, so I was pleased to hear about the close, co-operative bonds between the Agency and the brave volunteers of the Royal National Lifeboat Institution who work tirelessly to save lives at sea.
The station at Wells has a fascinating history, the first boathouse having been built in 1830 in response to vessels frequently running aground on the outlying sands surrounding the port by the Norfolk Shipwreck Association.
The RNLI took over in 1869 and it has been operating continuously ever since.
During that time, they have saved countless lives – including in 1872 the MP for North Norfolk, Frederick Walpole – and its members have received three medals for their gallantry.
I was especially pleased to learn that new funding schemes are leading to appreciable benefits, including buying lifejackets and safety gear, as well as improving training new and existing volunteers.
In my Ministerial capacity, I launched a fund to support rescue services in local communities last year and, in partnership with the Lifeboat Fund, Wells has raised almost £1 million to buy a new lifeboat, of which £400,000 came from the Government.
That the sea can be a cruel neighbour is well known to those living on the coast, so it is imperative we value and support the lifesaving work that goes on every day by our dedicated local lifeboat and rescue boat services.
Their commitment and skill, as well as saving us from the waves, keeps our rivers, lakes and inshore areas safe.
In that same spirit, last week saw the splendid sight of the Royal Navy’s newest ship, HMS Queen Elizabeth, sailing into her home port of Portsmouth for the first time after her successful trials at sea.
The new aircraft carrier is Britain’s largest and most powerful ever, able to provide air power anywhere in the world at any time and sending a clear and imposing message to our allies and our enemies: Britain is and will remain a global power, ever ready to do our duty on shore or sea.
Seafaring – whether in fishing vessels, lifeboats or mighty warships – is deeply woven into our island story, our national fabric; Britain is, as Joseph Conrad put it, where “men and sea interpenetrate”.
From these small islands of ours, Britons have always looked to the horizon, yearning to explore, expand, civilise and improve.
Tennyson’s rousing call – “Come, my friends, / ‘Tis not too late to seek a newer world. / Push off, and sitting well in order smite / The sounding furrows” – speaks to us all. It warms the heart and stirs the soul to know that this indomitable spirit of Britannia is alive and well.