Naiad Errant (adventurous water-nymph) was an unusual choice of name for the prototype of William Osborne?s ?Swallow Senior? class. Ralph Nightingale, a Wimbledon solicitor, paid ?1,000 for her. His log shows that from her launch at Littlehampton on the South coast in June 1939 he brought her in three days to Kingston upon Thames. He moored her there at Horace Clarks yard (now Turks? boatyard).
It was from Clarks' that she was requisitioned for ?Operation Dynamo?. Members of the Sunbury Fire Brigade took her down river to Tough?s boatyard at Teddington. Douglas Tough arranged for J. Jameson to skipper Naiad to Ramsgate with L. Melsom as engineer and A. Crump as first hand. (The same team also ferried Matoya and Jameson and Melsom both helped with Tarifa and one of Malcolm Campbell?s Bluebirds).
At Ramsgate on May 31st Able-Seaman Samuel Palmer was given responsibility for two motor yachts - Westerly and Naiad Errant. He split his men among the two and chose Naiad for himself as ?the better boat? - probably because she was only a year old. Naiad?s later fame rests partly on this choice by AB Palmer - the other claim will be described later. According to the Dunkirk historian A.D. Divine, Palmers? long and detailed account of his time in Naiad is ?...the best individual account by any member of the lower deck who took part in the beach work throughout this time.?
Through this account we know that after preparing Naiad and Westerly, Palmer was asked to make a rendezvous with eight other similar craft outside Ramsgate breakwater at 0400 on Saturday 1st June. White Heather, now Riis I, was among them and probably led, Naiad was second in the flotilla going line ahead. They took the most recently mine-swept route (Route X) which being 55 nautical miles was 32 miles shorter than route Y which went via the Kwinte buoy off Ostende. After the North Goodwins light, Route X took them East-South-East, through the Ruytingen Pass 8 miles off the French coast and then South-South-East towards the coast between Gravelines and Dunkerque before making a right-angled turn to the East to approach the French coast from the West.
It was in this area of the right-angle turn, some three miles from Dunkerque at about 1250 that AB Palmer diverted to pick up an airman in the sea, only to find that he was a German and dead.
The Germans had launched a vicious, 4-hour, air attack at sunrise, and at 1300 they launched their second. Palmer saw the Foudroyant, which had left Dover at 1000 going at 25-30 kts. When he looked again she had gone! She received three direct hits from Stuka dive-bombers and French soldiers witnessed that she had gone done in ?less than a minute?. Some of her twenty survivors were singing ?La Marseillaise? as they drifted among the debris and oil. To Palmer went the honour of picking them up in Naiad - but he soon transferred them to a French tug in the vicinity.
Naiad then made a number of shore-to-ship trips, but in her attempts to tow off another Little Ship - low tide was at 1430 - a young seaman got a rope around a propeller and Naiad went aground. Palmer - who was later awarded a D.S.M. for his exploits - then carried soldiers through the water to a large ship nearby. He and his crew were ordered aboard the big ship and swam to it. The receding tide then grounded it.
Palmer never saw his other charge, the Westerly, again but in fact at about 1430 she was on fire and her crew were rescued by Sundowner who had left Ramsgate at 1000 and was on her way to make her mammoth and famous pick-up from the East Mole.
Meanwhile, aboard the stranded Naiad Errant, there were various soldiers including Cyril Chell RA, and Drivers Cox and Cullen. They cleared her prop and got the engine running. The fast rising tide refloated both Naiad and the big ship so Palmer ordered the soldiers to come alongside and while both were under way jumped down onto Naiad?s foredeck. He found her 'packed full? and took charge.
Seeing that Naiads? fuel gauges indicated that there was only about 16 gallons of fuel left - insufficent to return home - they found a moored boat full of petrol cans. Palmer confessed that he ?fisted? six 2-gallon cans. As they continued their journey, the engines died. There were bombs and shells all around them and they were also in danger of drifting onto Dunkirk pier or of being run down by other craft.
(There is a possible explanation for the engines stopping. At Dunkerque, the water mains had been bombed and the soldiers were short of water. Southern Command therefore transported eighty-thousand gallons of water across the channel for them. However, when their supply of water tanks ran out, they had to use petrol cans! This is known to have caused confusion, and on that very same afternoon Malcolm Campbell's Bluebird also suffered the same fate of having water in her petrol tanks.)
Around 2100 A-B Palmer feared that the fast-running tidal stream would dash the powerless Naiad against the East Mole. He ordered those aboard to break up the cabin doors and use them as oars to keep a little way on her, which they did wholeheartedly in spite of their exhaustion.
Palmer was still wet through and exhausted from his time in the sea, but a soldier on board gave him some rum and he perked up. About an hour-and-a-half later the starboard engine started, and A-B Palmer set off at a steady 5-6 knots. He deliberately avoided the main traffic lanes to avoid being run down, and using the compass, he took Naiad Errant straight across the minefields - ('errant' indeed!) - towards Dover.
At 0300 his eyes got a bit 'shakey' looking into the compass bowl, so he asked a soldier to take over for a short while, but hurriedly resumed the helm when he realised that they were heading back to Dunkerque! At dawn he struck Dover dead centre and went thence to Ramsgate where he arrived at 11 o'clock next morning.
At Ramsgate, one of Naiads' rescued soldiers gave Naiads bell in gratitude to one of the canteen ladies on the pier. She returned it to Sandy Evans 38 years later! In a similar way, but after an even longer period, Sgt. Chell returned a large Red Ensign, which he claims to have taken off Naiad.
Christian Brann writes that Naiad returned twice more to Dunkirk. After 'Operation Dynamo' Naiad returned to Sunbury, and photographs display her damage with three windows missing, one handrail badly bent, and the other removed.
The second cause for Naiad's fame was the fact that she was then painted grey all over and used as an Armed Patrol Vessel in the Harwich area. There's no particular fame in that, but when they assembled the small craft involved for a publicity photocall, Naiad Errant sporting a number '7' found herself nearest the cameras, and so was the only one of the nine vessels involved to have had her name visible on film and photograph! With the Defence of the Realm Act (DORA) then making unofficial photography forbidden, she thus appears on all three different shots in what is virtually the only film of a small craft flotilla to have survived.
One or other of these three clips is used in virtually every visual presentation of the Dunkirk epic, although Naiad was not in Armed Patrol livery during 'Operation Dynamo'. On one sail-past she has a seaman manning her fore-deck gun with her unnamed sister ship immediately behind. The clearest picture was taken when a soldier was manning it, and it was used on the cover of Christian Brann's book ?The Little Ships of Dunkirk? - thus adding even more to her fame!
Able Seaman Palmer's account was included in Divine's books and in John Masefield's ?The Nine Days Wonder?. Sandy Evans owns a letter from the Poet Laureate (who met Samuel Palmer and corresponded with him) referring to her as the 'famous little ship', and hoping when peace came to have her visit his home on the Upper Thames.
After her service as an Armed Patrol Vessal the Navy continued to use her. A photo taken at Sunbury shows that they painted all the woodwork white and added a massive ugly rubbing strake.
Naiad went through several hands after decommissioning in 1946. Sandy Evans was looking for a Dunkirk Little Ship and first saw her lying on the river Hamble but lost her to a boatyard where she was stripped and sold unnamed. He spent seven more years looking for her, acquiring along the way her ship's papers, her bell and the navigation lights used on patrol after Dunkirk. Then, by chance, one day he saw another Dunkirk Little Ship coming through Boulter's Lock on the Thames. On board was the Association?s Secretary, who had just located Naiad, for sale in Southampton. Three days later - 3rd September 1981 - she was Sandy's. He has restored her, cherished her, and has taken her on every Association of Dunkirk Little Ships rallies and Returns to Dunkirk ever since.
John Richards and his son Paul have become joint owners and are financing her repair after she nearly sank in the Medway in 1999.
See Naiad's new website www.naiaderrant.co.uk.
Source: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 11, 12, 13 & 19