Dunbar woman leaves RNLI lifeboat heroes £14,000 in her will after dramatic sea rescue in 1965

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A Dunbar woman who thought she was going to die at 14 after her canoe capsized has left £14,000 to the lifeboat crew which saved her life.

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Joan Scambler expressed her wish to donate the amount to the local lifeboat station before her death in January 2021 aged just 69.

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It comes after Joan’s near-death experience at East Beach in April 1965, after she took her friend Arnold ‘Noll’ Togneri’s wooden canoe out in the sea.

Joan ScamblerJoan Scambler
Joan Scambler

Noll, now 72, remembers the day well and the panic he felt when Joan was plunged into the cold water.

“Several of us were there. It was a nice April day, but cold with a fairly stiff westerly breeze,” said Noll, who had been at the beach that day with his friends Jack and Mark Beattie and John and James Mackay.

“Jack and Mark had a shot and then Joan came along with a friend and wanted a shot.”

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Joan took Noll’s canoe while her friend Linda Sinclair took a smaller one, but the pair soon found themselves in trouble. Linda managed to return safely to the shore but despite being warned by Noll not to go far, Joan ended up in the water about a mile and a half away.

Joan Scambler never forgot the lifeboat crew which saved her lifeJoan Scambler never forgot the lifeboat crew which saved her life
Joan Scambler never forgot the lifeboat crew which saved her life
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Noll, who set off in a friend’s canoe to try and save her himself but also ended up in the water, said: “Joan was in jeans and fashion boots which made it difficult for her to swim. I was in trunks and a shirt. We were about a mile and a half offshore and by now it was very cold. I was trying to keep her up.”

Fearing for their lives, the pair were forced to stay in the water and wait. And despite Joan’s insistence that Noll swim back and leave her, the young man never left her side.

Instead, he kept her afloat until the pair could be pulled from the freezing sea.

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Joan Scambler in the water a couple of years after her terrifying experienceJoan Scambler in the water a couple of years after her terrifying experience
Joan Scambler in the water a couple of years after her terrifying experience

Shortly before 5pm, the Watson-class lifeboat Margaret launched from the harbour and got to the teenagers in the nick of time.

Davie Lees, now 82, is the last surviving member of the crew that day. The former fisherman responded to the call, along with coxswain Robert George Brunton, engineer Andrew Smith, his son Charlie, Zander Wilson and Bob Marr.

Davie, who spent four years on the crew and later returned as a deputy launch authority and lifeboat operations manager, said: “We got to them quite quickly but they were getting blown off. She was hanging on but couldn’t hang on much longer.

“We picked them up, got them on board and Zander Wilson, who was our first aider then, got blankets to warm them up and we brought them to shore. Joan was on the verge of hypothermia.”

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The pair spent a night in Dunbar Cottage Hospital at East Links and, though in shock, both made full recoveries.

For his bravery and dedication to saving his young friend, Noll was awarded an inscribed watch - much like the one his father was awarded when he was 16, also for saving someone from the water.

And for Joan, the experience served as a reminder to always live life to the full.

Her brother Alan said she did just that, dividing her time between sports she loved, like netball, country dancing and swimming, and performing music as part of popular duo The Vee Jays.

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She spent 15 years living in North Berwick until she was in her early 40s but otherwise spent her whole life in Dunbar.

Joan, who owned many golden retrievers throughout her life, had many jobs but latterly worked in a local pet shop and behind the counter at Dunbar Post Office.

Although decades passed, Joan never forgot what happened at the beach that day and the experience sparked a lifelong love for the RNLI and gratitude for all the crew did to save her life.

Alan said: “Joan never forgot the RNLI and was a regular supporter of Dunbar’s Lifeboat Day. To show her appreciation for such a fantastic institution we have her great nephew and niece Lewis and Ailie presenting a cheque from Joan for £14,360.”

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Lewis and Ailie, 11 and seven respectively, presented the cheque to Dunbar Lifeboat’s fundraising chair Veronica Davies during the Lifeboat Fete in July.

Noll, who went on to serve on the crew and became a deputy launch authority, will also be there to remember Joan, along with the four boys who were at the beach almost 60 years ago.

Veronica Davies said: “On behalf of the RNLI, we really appreciate the kindness of the late Joan Scambler and her family at what must have been a very difficult time. This was a beautiful gesture in remembrance of Joan and we are truly thankful for this very generous donation. The donation will greatly help the RNLI, a cause that Joan was very passionate about, to continue saving lives at sea.”

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