ONE of the oldest lifeguards in the UK, Christopher Lewis has given 52 years of voluntary service to Dorset beachgoers.

Now made an MBE in the New Year Honours for services to maritime safety, Mr Lewis has performed hundreds of rescues and thousands of beachfront patrols as one of the first members of the Bournemouth Lifeguard Corps, when it was founded in 1965.

He worked for decades as a teacher at Henry Harbin School (now Poole High) and West Moors Middle School, before a bout of depression and anxiety forced him to quit.

However, he decided to draw on his voluntary experience with the corps and go full time lifeguard with the RNLI, and the experience changed his life.

"I was sat at home and I didn't do a lot, I thought why not go and work for the RNLI," he said.

"The fitness needed to become a lifeguard meant I didn't need to continue with my medication.

"I became fitter than ever before, particularly thanks to Zoom Tri Club who helped with swimming, obviously the main thing, and cycling and running. It kept me firing on all cylinders."

Mr Lewis has dedicated a lifetime of volunteering at a local club level but is also known as a champion and advocate for beach safety internationally.

Even off the coast his lifesaving instincts have kicked into action.

In 1996, while on his way to a lifesaving competition, he and his wife were first on scene at a car accident and leapt into action pulling casualties from a car that was on fire and providing CPR.

He received a meritorious award for lifesaving and a thank you letter from the police for his extreme bravery.

On receiving the honour he said: "It is an immense honour, nothing I ever dreamed of.

"It is really nice to think that the people you work with put you forward for something like this.

"It is nice to be appreciated as we make sure the beach in Bournemouth is safe, that is what we are there for."

Mr Lewis has also received a medal for long service from the Royal Life Saving Society.

A spokesman for the Prime Minister's Office said: "He is regarded as a true hero by the people he rescues and his peers hold him in high esteem.

"He is a courageous man, who is much loved, admired and respected for his dedication to saving lives."