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Dunkirk ‘Little Ship’ Massey Shaw returns for London Boat Show

The Massey Shaw on the Thames The Massey Shaw on the Thames

Saturday, January 4, 2014
7:00 AM

London’s famous war veteran fireboat which took part in the 1940 Dunkirk evacuations and then battled the Blitz has arrived back on the Thames after a £1 million restoration.

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The Massey Shaw arrived last night at the Royal Docks in east London to take part in the London Boat Show opening this-morning at the Excel centre.

It has just completed a four-year restoration in Gloucester, before being transported back by road.

“The weather was too rough to risk sailing round the coast,” said David Rogers, honorary director of the Massey Shaw Education Trust.

“She’s not a sea-going vessel and would have taken punishment. So we had to transport her on the motorway on a low-loader with a police escort.”

Even so, the Massey Shaw did cross the English Channel and risked coming under German fire to take part in the operation to lift 340,000 British and French troops off the beaches at Dunkirk.

It went three times into the shallow waters to ferry soldiers from the beeches to larger vessels anchored further out to sea and is credited with rescuing 500 men.

The vessel, named in honour of the first Superintendent of the Metropolitan Fire Brigade, Sir Eyre Massey Shaw, was commissioned by the London County Council and launched in 1935. Its first action was tackling a huge warehouse fire at St Katharine’s Dock by the Tower of London in 1937.

But it really earned its stripes in 1940 as one of the ‘Dunkirk Little Ships’ commandeered by the Royal Navy.

The vessel was once again tackling massive fire storms during the Blitz as the London and Surrey Docks blazed.

The boat was decommissioned in 1971 and was almost forgotten about—until it was spotted abandoned at St Katharine’s Docks in 1980 by enthusiasts who set up the Massey Shaw & Marine Vessels Preservation Society to bring her back to her former glory.

The latest restoration has taken four years, getting her ready for her pride of place at the London Boat Show.

David Rogers was one of the first to welcome her home.

“The scale of the restoration has been overwhelming,” he said. “Her place in the heart of so many firefighters and those who families have memories of her 40 years of service has ensured her return to glory.”

The vessel, which returned to Dunkirk with the Association of Little Ships three times between 1965 and 2000, is joining the 75th anniversary in 2015 when 50 veteran ‘Little Ships’ take part, escorted by the RNLI and Royal Navy.

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