George Davidson, lifeboat coxswain
GEORGE Cossar Davidson, retired coxswain of Kirkcudbright lifeboat, was one of six children, and began his career with the Royal National Lifeboat Institution as a volunteer shore signalman aged only 14. On leaving Kirkcudbright Academy at 16, he followed in his father's footsteps by joining the Post Office as a telegram boy. He was an enthusiastic and talented athlete, boxer, sailor and rugby player and from an early age a keen member of youth clubs.
When war broke out, he cycled 28 miles to Dumfries to enlist, but was rejected because of his age. Showing typical enterprise and determination, he pedalled on to Carlisle, only to be confronted with and rejected by the same recruiting officer he had encountered in Dumfries. Vouched for by a passing officer impressed by his enthusiasm, he was ultimately accepted and went to Plymouth in 1940 for training in the Royal Navy.
In 1941, during a bombing raid on Plymouth, he ran into a burning building, climbing four flights of stairs to rescue a trapped man. He was awarded the British Empire Medal (military division) in recognition of his bravery and disregard for his own safety.
In March 1942 as an ordinary telegraphist on Motor Launch 192, he accompanied the destroyer HMS Campbeltown in the raid on St Nazaire. In the chaos and carnage following the successful ramming of the dock gates, George swam ashore from his badly damaged vessel but was soon taken prisoner. Despite a successful escape bid, he was recaptured and sent to prison camp Stalag 8B and then to work camps in Upper Silesia.
He endured life in captivity for two-and-a-half years and during this time was forced to march more than 1,000 miles with neither boots nor adequate food as his captors fled the advancing Russian forces. Finally liberated on St George's Day 1945, he returned emaciated to face a civic reception in Britain. He received the Distinguished Service Medal for his part in the raid on St Nazaire.
In 1945 he rejoined both Kirkcudbright Post Office and the crew of Kirkcudbright lifeboat. He then met Ola Paton, a young woman who was his equal in charm, courage and strength of character, and they married in Kirkcudbright in 1949. George was appointed full-time coxswain of the Kirkcudbright lifeboat Morison Watson in 1950 and remained in that post for 34 years, serving also in the J B Couper of Glasgow and the Mary Pullman.
Ideally suited to the demanding job of lifeboat coxswain, he took delight in doing a job he loved. His combination of physical fitness, mental strength, leadership skills and exceptional seamanship would have equipped him for much more lucrative employment, but George remained loyal to the RNLI and to Kirkcudbright. He had the total confidence and loyalty of the crews that served with him, and in his 34 years as coxswain was responsible for saving more than 50 lives.
His skills were perhaps typical of those that might be expected in a lifeboat coxswain, but George supplemented them with, among others, craftsmanship in wood and metal, sign-writing, and the writing of polished prose and poetry. He was also a crusader against infringement of rights of way, a protector of wildlife and, for a brief period, an extremely effective town councillor.
As one of the founders of Kirkcudbright Sailing Club in 1956, George devoted much time to passing on his colossal skills in seamanship, boat-building and prudent navigation to a generation of young people, many of whom are now successful professional mariners. Appointed pilot to the River Dee at Kirkcudbright in 1965, he brought up to 60 coastal tankers a year safely up the winding channel to Kirkcudbright Harbour until 1982. Some time after the automation in 1961 of the Lighthouse on Little Ross Island at the mouth of Kirkcudbright Bay, he was appointed attendant/boatman, with responsibility for ensuring that the light was kept in good order and supplied with fuel.
This exceptionally kind, hospitable and modest man was a true hero, nationally and locally, and a fighter against all forms of injustice. He won many battles, against Nazi Germany, mountainous seas and a host of other adversities, including being tossed into the air when struck by a car aged 82. Only the advance of old age proved invincible.
Ola died in 1999, but George is survived by his brother Jimmy, his daughters, Jane and Faith, three grandchildren and a great-granddaughter.