Opinion: Remembering those in peril

Peter Stanford, a writer and broadcaster. He chaired the trustees of the national disability charity Aspire and now sits on various trustee boards

It was one of those glorious winter mornings that we seem to be getting more of these days - blue sky, crisp air, all is well with the world. We were on Wells beach in north Norfolk and wandered round the point past the lifeboat station.

The doors were open at the back and my children were fascinated by the sight of the bit of the boat that is normally underneath the waves. On the side wall was a simple display about the RNLI and the history of the station. It was only when I read it aloud to Kit and Orla that I realised how extraordinary the story is.

It may be my age, but I find myself increasingly coming fully to appreciate the sacrifices others make and have made for us. The eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month feels more poignant each passing year, although the living links with that time are now all but gone. We had watched a few weeks earlier in the tiny Norfolk village where we spend some weekends as an elderly woman washed down the war memorial in preparation for its garlanding with poppies.

And here at the lifeboat station were people who were prepared to risk and lose their lives for us. For no pay. The children stumbled over that detail as I read it out. Shouldn't they get the most money, my eight-year-old wondered out loud?

You can see his logic, but our society does precisely the opposite. Every small and useless thing has an inflated monetary value. We pay millions to people who kick a football around a field or move money round financial markets to make more millions. And yet here, in our midst, are modest heroes doing something so vital that it is beyond recompense - individuals such as Aileen Jones, helmsman of the RNLI's Porthcawl boat, who in August braved gale-force winds to rescue a fishing vessel and who this week became the first woman in 116 years to receive the Institute's bravery award.

These people are signs of contradiction in our debased world, representing as they do self-sacrifice and courage in a no-risk, huge-reward age. At this Christmas time of year, their example shines like a star in every sense.

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