A Skegness hero of the sea said he was overwhelmed when the Queen guessed he was a coxwain after he joked he had only served half a shift compared to her.
Lifeboat coxwain Ray Chapman went to London last Tuesday to receive the MBE awarded to him in the Queen’s New Year Honours – accompanied by his wife, April, treasurer of the Skegness RNLI, his sister, Angie Curran, and mum Audrey Chapman.
Mr Chapman had been “honoured and stunned” when he opened the letter informing him his 44 years volunteering for the Royal National Lifeboat Institute had earned him the Member of the British Empire medal.
But he says he will never forget the moment he received his award in the grand ballroom from the Queen with the announcement “for services to Skegness Lifeboat”.
He said: “Originally the award was for services to maritime safety so I was surprised to hear it had changed to services to Skegness Lifeboat. The Queen pinned the medal on a hook that had already been placed on my lapel. Then she asked if I had been busy and how long I had served.
“I said 45 years but that’s half a shift compared to you Ma’am.
“She said you must be in charge and asked how long I had been a coxwain. I couldn’t believe she knew.
“Then she offered me her hand and I shook it and that was my time with her over.
“I was able to sit down and watch what had just happened to me. We had been able to watch other people ahead of us receiving their awards on a big screen in the holding area where we had been instructed on what would happen, The holding area was ornate too with massive paintings - we had plenty of time to look around.
“The whole day was amazing and done with military precision.
“The pomp and ceremony and politeness was incredible, from the moment we arrived and there were soldiers in full ceremonial dress standing up the stairs like manikins to the senior officers who escorted us.
“My sister, wife and mum had been ushered into the grand ballroom first where an orchestra was playing. I had been worried about then having to wait an hour and a half for the ceremony to end, especially as my mum is disabled. But they said they could have stayed there all day.”
After meeting the Queen, Mr Chapman met another ‘Windsor’ while he was at Buckingham Palace – EastEnders royalty actress Barbara Windsor of the ‘Queen Vic’.
Mr Chapman had joined other guests in a main hall when Barbara Windsor, who had been made a Dame, joined him. He said: “She just came over and said, ‘Shall we have a picture taken?’. It was quite a surprise but she was lovely.”
Life-saving has always been part of the Chapman family. From the age of 10 he used to help his father, Ron Chapman, who dedicated 39 years to Skegness RNLI. He first became a crew member of the inshore D-class lifeboat on his 16th birthday. His rescue of the fishing boat Sarah in December 2011 showed his “hands-on and motivational leadership”, the MBE commendation said.
It involved a fishing boat that was taking on water and had lost its steerage in high winds. The crew of seven, including Mr Chapman, took seven hours to tow the boat to shore.
Other members of his family are also volunteers. His wife is treasurer of the Skegness RNLI and his brother, Dale, is lifeboat operations manager at Mablethorpe Lifeboat Station.
Since returning home he said he had a lot of support. He said: “I’ve been overwhelmed by all of the good wishes I have received from people on social media and I would just like to say thank you.”