Posted: 04.05.21 at 15:31 by Stuart Higgins
The historic Dunkirk ‘Little Ship’ lost yesterday in the massive fire at the Platt’s Eyot, Hampton played a key role in the Queen’s Jubilee pageant, it has emerged.
The Lady Gay was part of the flotilla which followed the Royal Barge Gloriana down the Thames for the historic celebrations in 2012.
The vessel was owned by Australian businessman Jason Carley, 41, who is a member of the Association of Dunkirk Little Ships and helped organise a 100-strong flotilla of the Dunkirk vessels for the historic occasion.
The Lady Gay underwent extensive repairs at the time at Michael Dennett Boat Builders near Chertsey to prepare for its Royal appointment.
It’s understood the 13 tonne Lady Gay, 36 feet, and built in Westcliffe on Sea in 1934 was recently based at Otter Marine at Platt’s Eyot and was undergoing specialist engineering works.
At the time of the Jubilee celebrations, Mr Carley said: “The Dunkirk Little Ships are going to be in the section directly behind the royal flotilla. The Lady Gay is going to have to keep up so I'm giving her a full engine service.
“Plus a fresh lick of paint and varnish so she looks her very best. Boats like this are a crucial link to Britain's maritime history. Dunkirk is a key event by which British people identify themselves, and it's great to be a part of these celebrations with the Queen.”
In the summer of 1940 the Lady Gay joined fishing vessels, yachts and other private boats in the evacuation of Dunkirk beaches, known as Operation Dynamo. From May 26 to June 3 1940 the vessels saved 340,000 stranded Allied troops from the clutches of the Nazis on the beaches of northern France.
The evacuation, also known as the Miracle of Dunkirk, saw the ships become affectionately known as Dunkirk Little Ships, and were been granted their own naval flag ensign in recognition of their incredible achievement.
Originally built by Dunhill cigarettes owner, Lord Alfred Dunhill for £1,500 in 1934 at a motor cruiser, by the time war broke out the Lady Gay was requisitioned by the Royal Navy and after the Dunkirk evacuation she served as a Thames patrol boat.
She passed through several hands until four-years-ago, when Mr Carley was looking for a Thames pleasure boat and saw the Lady Gay on sale. He bought it as a gift to his wife, Christene, whose British infantryman grandfather, Edward Leddy was rescued by a little ship like this at Dunkirk.
Mr Carley added at the time: “We saw a broker in Ipswich who had a Dunkirk little ship up for sale. Because Christene's grandfather was at Dunkirk we immediately drove up to see it.
“From the moment we saw it we were very interested and because of the history and her elegance we decided to buy her. The previous owners had done a full restoration of her, but that was ten years earlier. She was never a wreck but she hadn't been used for three or four years.'
Mr Carley lovingly restored his beloved boat with a new 250 horse-powered diesel engine, which took it up to a speed of eight knots.
Mr Carley is originally from Sydney, Australia but now lives with Christene and their two-children at their home in Deanshanger, Northamptonshire.
He explained what Dunkirk means to nations such as Australia who share a common history with Britain.
"These little ships are also much loved,' he said.
“As an Australian it's been a real eye-opener for me - the Dunkirk story is like Gallipoli for Australians.
"Like Gallipoli it shows how the nation can pull together in adversary and overcome defeat.
Mr Carley hopes the restoration of Lady Gay's hull will leave her in mint condition for the crowds of spectators.
"On the day it's going to be a massive event and logistically challenging with this many boats on the river," he said.
“But the organisers have obviously spent a lot of time making arrangements, so I'm sure everything will be successful on the day. We are very much looking forward to taking part in it."
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