1940: Florence Nightingale Of The Storm

“Dovey” is always ready! Seventy, but is she tough!

Miss Pettit

Aldeburgh, Suffolk, Saturday

The tempest whines. Huge breakers crash upon the shore. And all who can, seek shelter from the black-out and the storm. But one lone figure remains – the figure of Miss “Dovey” Pettit. Little Old Lady of the Wrecks.

Clad in man’s trilby, gum boots and sou’wester, this seventy-years-old woman stands waiting for the lifeboats to land their human salvage.

Then she gets busy. Steaming drinks, hot baths, dry clothes, she prepares them all, and soon the men who have looked death in the face begin to smile again.

Today I met this Florence Nightingale of the Storm and, helped by local fishermen pieced together the story of her years of service to seafaring men.

Eighteen years ago the Shipwrecked Fishermen and Mariners’ Society sought for a local agent. But no one would take on the unpaid post. Then a fisherman said jokingly: “Why not try Miss Pettit? She’ll take on any job if it is for a good cause.”

Since then hundreds of seamen from dozens of foundered vessels have had cause to thank the kindly, white-haired soul who has come to their aid. I can’t report what she has done during this war. Censorship forbids. But many a night the old lady has risen from her bed and made her way through the inky black-out to the look-out station in answer to the alarm.

Not even the blinding flurry of a snowstorm kept her from her post. Take one wreck that occurred within the past 12 months. From Aldeburgh’s two lifeboats 80 men, soaked to the skin, some of them fainting from exposure, were landed. The old lady met them all and in no time escorted them to a local hall. Baths were provided; food, too. But clothes. That was the problem. Miss Pettit only had clothes for seven or eight men, that being the number for which she usually had to cater.

Somewhat varied

But the Florence Nightingale of the Storms was not going to be beaten. She has powerful lungs and marched through every street shouting:-

“Anybody got any clothes for the shipwrecked me? If so, please take them to the Jubilee Hall.”

Aldeburgh answered her call and within an hour she had more than enough garments.

“Although they had undergone a terrible experience, the sailors just had to laugh at themselves when they were dressed,” she told me. “One man wore a straw hat, white flannels and a dinner jacket; another evening dress trousers and a fisherman’s blue sweater.”

The old lady is regarded by tough local fisherman as one of themselves. They all call her “Dovey”, her childhood nickname.

The People, 3 March 1940

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