William Fleming (lifeboatman)

William George Fleming[1] GC (1865–1954) was a famous lifeboatman from Gorleston on the east coast of Norfolk, England. He would win the gold medal of the Royal National Lifeboat Institution, the silver medal, the bronze medal three times, and the George Cross.[1]

William George Fleming
William Fleming GC

Coxswain of the Gorleston lifeboat (1922-1934)

Early life

William Billy Flemming was born in Gorleston on Sea in 1865.[1] As a young man he worked as an ordinary seaman, working on small sailing vessels on the east coast of England. He is recorded on the 1881 census as a seaman working on the Charlotte Cole. He lived for most of his life in Pavilion Road,[2] Gorleston, just a small distance from the Lifeboat station. He joined the crew of the Great Yarmouth and Gorleston lifeboat in the mid-1880s.[1]


Billy Flemming served on the Gorleston lifeboat through the latter years of the 19th century, and spanning the first four decades of the 20th century.[1] He was in his late 50’s when he became coxswain in 1922, a post he held until 1934.[1] Over his 49 years of service he helped to rescue 1,188 people.[1]

Notable rescues

SS Hopelyn

During his lifeboat career Billy had been involved in many services of note. In 1922[1] the lifeboat went to the rescue of the SS Hopelyn which had run aground on Scroby Sands. The lifeboat Kentwell was unsuccessful in her efforts to get the crew of 24 from the SS Hopelyn to safety after damaging the lifeboat against the hull of the Hopelyn. The crew were eventually rescued by the Lowestoft lifeboat Agnes Cross which also attended the rescue.


Billy Fleming was awarded a RNLI Gold medal for his part in the rescue of the Hopelyn, his crew were awarded fifteen Bronze medals.[1] Flemings 49 year career with the lifeboat service was marked by courageous acts that placed second only to Henry Blogg of Cromer, in the list of Norfolk’s most decorated lifeboat men. Over the space of five years, Billy Fleming attained a full set of the RNLI’s awards for gallantry. In 1926[1] he was awarded a Bronze medal for the rescue of four seamen from the Ketch Henrietta. In 1927[1] he received a Silver medal for the part the lifeboat played in the rescue of the Dutch Oil Tanker SS Georgia.

A blue "heritage" plaque to commemorate William G. Fleming GC was unveiled on Monday, 23 October 2017 at No 11 Pavilion Road, Gorleston, where he lived whilst serving as coxswain. [3]

See also


  1. "Norfolk Maritime Heroes & Legends", Nicholls, M., Pub: Poppyland Publishing, 2008, ISBN 978-0-946148-85-1
  2. County A to Z Atlas, Street & Road maps Norfolk, page 147 ISBN 978-1-84348-614-5
  3. Great Yarmouth Mercury, 14 October 2017, Blue plaque to honour Gorleston lifeboat coxswain retrieved January 2018
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