The Welly Trail William MITCHELL


Welcome to the Exmouth RNLI Yellow Welly Trail.

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William Henry Mitchell 

Coxswain 1918 – 1928

Coxswain of Lifeboat:

Joseph Somes 2

Coxswain Mitchell’s first ‘shout’ was on 5th January 1920.  The Coast Guard spotted the yawl ‘Zanita’ of Guernsey stranded on the end of Pole Sands, with seas breaking over her deck.  The 49 ton vessel was loaded with a cargo of phosphate.  

The Lifeboat needed to launch “with great promptitude”  and on this occasion, 39 people were called to haul the boat across the beach, instead of the usual 29.

The crew rowed to the ‘Zanita’ where 4 crewmen went aboard, secured a tow rope, and as the tide was rising, towed her to the safety of Exmouth Harbour.  They were credited with saving the lives of the Captain and 3 crew. 

This photo of Coxswain Mitchell and his crew shows that the old life jackets made of cork have been replaced by a newer style which contain kapok. 

One of these life jackets is on display in the RNLI Exmouth 200th Anniversary Exhibition in Exmouth Museum. Please see their website for opening times /

Kapok is a fine, cotton-like material which is more commonly used to stuff cushions and toys. It was also found to be very buoyant. The kapok lifejackets had a supporting force that was stronger by 3½ times to that of cork.

Initially, there were several problems with designing the kapok lifejackets – many lifeboat crews even announced that they’d rather drown than wear them! But once created, the canvas-covered jackets remained in lifesaving use until the late 1960s.

Write the letter E from MITCHELL in space 5 of your answer box.


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We have made every effort to ensure all the information about the Coxswains is accurate. However, we are always happy to be corrected or updated and, if you can add to our knowledge base, please email us at

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