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Margate RNLI volunteer shares tragic story of Christmas call-out 15 years ago


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A lifeboat volunteer has shared the tragic story of a nameless man found dead at sea at Christmas time 15 years ago.

In his 54 years of service at Margate RNLI, Peter Barker has helped save dozens of lives from the seas off the Kent coast.

Peter Barker during his time as coxswain/mechanic for Margate RNLI. Picture: RNLI
Peter Barker during his time as coxswain/mechanic for Margate RNLI. Picture: RNLI

But each Christmas, as families gather for festive celebrations, Peter's thoughts turn back to an unknown man whose life he was unable to save - whose passing left behind a mystery that may never be solved.

Fifteen years ago, the lifeboat crew was called to recover a body spotted by a passing ship around six miles off Margate.

Despite widespread inquiries, including overseas, the police were not able to identify the man or the cause of his death.

When giving a statement at the man's inquest, Peter asked what would happen to the man and was told as he would be buried in an unmarked grave at a local cemetery.

"I asked who would be there and was told probably no one other than the cemetery staff as no one knew him," he recalls.

"Somebody somewhere is living with the unanswered question of what happened to their husband, father, son or brother..."

Peter was soon disappointed to learn the man's burial had gone ahead without him being given the chance to attend.

But he would not let the man be forgotten, and soon visited his grave.

He said: "The cemetery staff pointed out the plot and I laid a simple bunch of flowers and a note from the lifeboat crew saying: ‘no one knew him – but we did’.

"I repeated this on the anniversary of the call each year until I retired."

Years on, Peter thinks of this man and of his family - possibly in another country - who are likely still wondering why he never came home.

"Christmas is the time of year when you think of these sort of things," he said.

Peter Barker now, in his role as Margate Lifeboat Station’s volunteer lifeboat press officer. Picture: RNLI
Peter Barker now, in his role as Margate Lifeboat Station’s volunteer lifeboat press officer. Picture: RNLI

"I have always wondered who this unfortunate chap was.

"Did he fall overboard from a ship in distant waters? Did he have an accident ashore somewhere?

"It is a shame that somebody somewhere is living with the unanswered question of what happened to their husband, father, son or brother.

"If only the story could at least be partly closed, if the two mysteries of what happened to him and who he was could be joined somehow.

"I’m sure that could bring relief and closure to a family somewhere this Christmas and for the crew it would be great to know that we were able to return him to his loved ones."

Peter began volunteering for the RNLI at the age of just 17. He has since crewed Margate’s inshore and all-weather lifeboats and served as the station’s coxswain and mechanic, leading many rescues from 1987 to 2005.

Now 71, he remains a crew member, acting as the station’s lifeboat press officer.

He has shared his story in a bid to draw attention to the work done year-round by the RNLI, as he and his fellow lifeboat volunteers prepare to be on-call over the holidays.

Throughout Christmas, volunteers often leave their loved ones behind in order to answer calls - each time hoping to see those in trouble at sea returned safely home.

Over the past decade, RNLI lifeboats have launched more than 1,200 times during the festive period, and the charity has now launched a Christmas appeal to help support its life-saving work.

"We know that every time our crews go out they hope for a good outcome, but sadly this sometimes isn’t the case," said Peter.

"Through people supporting this year’s Christmas appeal, with their help we can get so much closer to our goal of saving every one."

To make a donation to the RNLI’s Christmas Appeal, click here.RNLI.org/Xmas

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