Boat Specification
Boat Name: 
Boat Type: 
Motor Yacht
Boat Length: 
41 ft
Boat Beam: 
9 ft
Boat Draft: 
3 ft 10ins
Boat Displacement: 
6.56 tons
Boat Engine: 
2 x Beta 50hp Diesel
Boat Construction: 
Carvel; mahogany on oak.
Boat Builder: 
Walton Yacht and Launch Works, Walton-on-Thames
Boat Year: 


This short history aims to set down a reasonably accurate narrative of Hilfranor’s life over the last seventy years. It is a worthy subject as she must be one of very few former Royal Naval vessels who saw service in the Second World War, are still afloat, went to Dunkirk to help with the evacuation, was sunk, was re-floated, and resumed her service in the Senior Service.

Today she is in excellent shape and is a regular visitor on the five yearly “Return” to Dunkirk. Her important position in maritime circles is recognised by her inclusion in the Historic Fleet of the United Kingdom in the National Register of Historic Vessels of the United Kingdom.


Hilfranor was built by the Walton Yacht and Launch Works at Walton on Thames in 1935. It is believed that she was originally 36 feet long and was extended in 1936 by six feet to give her a distinctive canoe stern. At the same time she was modified to include two bilge keels. With her two 20hp Morris petrol engines she was deemed to be capable of operating as a sea going vessel and indeed has spent most of her life at various English coastal harbours.

Hilfranor is of carvel construction with a displacement hull. This means she is long and thin and stays firmly in the water and will not plane. Typically navy destroyers are of the same hull design and their maximum speed is dictated by her hull speed. In Hilfanor’s case she is 41ft 2” long (but about 40 ft at the waterline) and 9ft in the beam, giving her a hull speed of 8.69 knots.

She was constructed with oak frames and mahogany with teak decking. Originally she had an indented wheelhouse and berths running under the stern deck, but these were removed in the 1988 restoration. The architect’s drawings from the 1988 restoration show the original layout and the changes introduced.

She was listed in the old Register of British Ships as 81 of 1936 in London, and no 2934 in the 1939 Lloyd’s Register of Yachts.

The original owner is believed to be F Ellam of London. The story goes that he named the vessel after his three daughters Hillary, Frances, and Norah. There is a photograph of what might be the happy family showing two women, one quite young and slight being chatted up by some loose capped chap, and a second rather older podgy looking lady. In other photographs the boat is seen to have some rather useful boarding steps, and a rakish looking washboard running from the bow to the wheelhouse. Mr Ellam is listed in the Medway Yacht Club as owner from 1936-38. It is thought he was also a member of The Little Ships Club, West Mersea Yacht Club and the RAF Club.

In 1939 the owner is listed as Frank B Parham of Gillingham, Kent.


When the call from the Admiralty came in late May 1940 for sea going vessels to help in the evacuation of Allied troops from Dunkirk Hilfranor was collected by Douglas Tough from the upper Thames.

Hilfranor was crewed by Jock Christie, W Hills and V Hissons. Film footage taken at the time or shortly afterwards show her with a Bren gun fitted astern of the wheelhouse. It is not clear how many crossings to Dunkirk were made by her but whilst there she was straddled by bombs from German dive bombers. With her frames cracked she settled into the shallow waters off the coast of France and was abandoned. One story has it that some French soldiers, desperate to get away from France bailed her out and got her engines going. She made it as far as the Goodwin sandbanks off the coast near Ramsgate where she sank once again. There, she was spotted by a British minesweeper and towed into Ramsgate (Brann p.)

Hilfranor stayed in service throughout the war. She appears in the Admiralty Small Craft Service List as having been an Auxiliary Patrol craft from May 1940 to March 1943. She was laid up until May 1943 and is then described as being in the Fire Service until 31 May 1945 when she was laid up again. The Admiralty paid £6 per month to hire her.


It is not clear when Hilfranor ceased to be owned by “His Majesty” as the Register of Ships puts it. Her new registration number was 164629 and she retained her call sign MHXW.

The record shows that in 1954 the Morris engines were replaced by two Standard Motor Corporation diesels producing 40hp each.

Jack R Baker of Rainham, Kent, a radio engineer, is shown as the first person on the new Registry on 2nd November 1955. He is believed to have owned her from 1948 until 1958

The next owner, registered in February 1958 was Walter John Redvers Bullers of Blackheath London, who described himself as a company director.

The Register shows Ronald James Fry of Downham, Bromley acquiring Hilfranor in March 1975.

In August 1986 Frederick Stevenson Miskimmin of Cowes, Isle of Wight, company director, purchased her.

By now Hilfranor was starting to look pretty rough, with grass growing on her decks. Salvation was to come in the form of a company wanting to use her for PR purposes on the 1990 crossing to Dunkirk. It is believed she was acquired in 1988 by ROCC Computers LTD although they were not registered as owners until April 1990.

She was taken to Combe’s Boatyard in Bosham where she underwent a complete restoration with bills totalling £190,000 being delivered to bring her into the condition she is in today. The stern berths have been removed and the galley placed in the stern of the aft saloon. The washboard has been replaced by raised planking around the whole ship. The old Standard engines are gone with their places taken by two Perkins 4108’s delivering 52hp each.

The original planking remains and the ribs were doubled up. The naval architect John Sharpe told me that when he inspected her he saw that the old frames had been cracked down both sides and had been doubled up. In the wheelhouse only the steps, fire extinguisher and Admiralty compass are original. The new layout includes radar, a new GPS chart plotter, auto helm, and radio. The decks were relayed with teak and the dinghy was replaced with a new clinker built 8ft example built by local apprentices of the Southampton Maritime Trust.

In the years following the 1990 crossing Hilfranor was acquired by one of ROCC’s directors, Norman Watling, of Plumpton Green, East Sussex. He based her down at Chichester. He kept the boat in excellent condition before selling her in July 2001 to Mark Edwards of Ashtead Surrey.

Mark Edwards put Hilfranor through an extensive refit in the winter of 2001 but felt unable to keep her and sold her to the writer in September 2002.

The serendipitous purchase was initiated by a rather good lunch and a languid perusal of Classic Boat where Hilfranor was listed for sale. Six weeks later after establishing that the list of good things on offer was longer (by design) than the list of bad things, and without looking at another vessel, she was bought.

Hilfranor came up to Norfolk on the back of a long low loader and stayed at Cox’s Boatyard at Barton Turf for a season.

In November 2004 she was hauled into one of the sheds where she underwent a further extensive refurbishment culminating in nine coats of Coelan varnish being applied by a patient team headed by the boatyard chief Eric Bishop.

She completed her first coastal trip under her new command from down the Norfolk coast across the Thames Estuary into Chatham Maritime and thence to Ramsgate for the 65th anniversary crossing to Dunkirk at the end of May 2005.

Since then Hilfranor spent three months at Chatham before moving to Bray Marina on the Thames in September. There she has been under the care of Colin Messer of Classic Restoration Services. She has received a new mast, relocated the radar dome, a new three skinned wheelhouse roof and new railings. This is in addition to the usual annual refurbishment and servicing.

Since arriving on the Thames Hilfranor has visited Oxford, Henley’s annual Traditional Boat Rally, the annual commemorative cruises, Dunkirk in 2010, a trip to Ostende in 2014 and the Queen’s Thames Jubilee parade in 2012. She returned to Dunkirk in 2015.


• Length 41ft 2”
• Beam 9ft
• Draft 3ft 10”
• Weight Registered 6.56 tons
• Crane weight 8 tons
• Engines (Originally) Twin Perkins Diesel 4108’s (52hp)
• Speed 8.69 knots
• Consumption (Originally) 1 gallon an hour at 7 knots

Hilfranor features in the August 1940 Pathe film "Our 'Mosquito' Navy" as vessel number 6, as mentioned above, complete with Bren Gun.
Naiad Errant also features in this important footage which conveys a real sense 'Dunkirk Spirit' just a few months after the evacuation.
See here:- https://www.britishpathe.com/video/our-mosquito-navy

At the time of update (Spring 2018), Hilfranor is in the yard having new Beta engines fitted.
Recent research shows that Hilfranor was listed in Lloyds Register of Yachts 1936 with her own identifying flag formed from the letter flags of the then owners name (F+E - Frederick Ellam) :-

Hilfranors Identification flag (Lloyds Register of Yachts 1936)Hilfranors Identification flag (Lloyds Register of Yachts 1936)

Source: 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 11 & 19
Updated April 2018