Nowadays few sailing boats - leave alone commercial vessels with cargoes of 150 tons or more - would be considered safe without a powerful engine. At the time of Dunkirk all but a few of the barges that went over managed quite well on sails alone. Pudge was an exception and her Kelvin Diesel auxiliary engine, rarely used, saved her life as well as that of her crew and the others on board.
War records show that Pudge was requisitioned on 29th May 1940 while she was in Tilbury docks waiting to load for Ipswich under command of Bill Watson, one of the senior captains of the London and Rochester Trading Company who was an old-time sailorman and wore gold earrings.
When they got to Dover the naval officer in command asked for eight or ten volunteers from among the skippers and their mates but so many of them were ready to go that it was necessary to draw lots.
Three of the barges - Thyra, Lady Rosebery and Pudge were taken in tow by the steel-hulled tug St. Fagan. To keep them together, save fuel and increase speed, they were towed across to Dunkirk and they reached the beaches under cover of darkness. There the three barges were cast off from the tug. The Lady Rosebery was ordered to proceed in-shore to pick up troops. She had navigated ahead of the St. Fagan, just astern of the tug, when there was a tremendous explosion as the St. Fagan struck a mine. Pudge was lifted bodily out of the water, but in the words of her skipper, "she came down the right way up". When the smoke and dust had settled, the St. Fagan, Lady Rosebery and Doris were no more. St. Fagan had a crew of twenty five and only six survived the explosion. Pudge immediately launched her bargeboat and picked up survivors, both from the tug and from other barges.
E G Fryer, a fifteen year old boy/cook serving on the tug Tanga recalls how they made three journeys across the channel during those fateful days and retrieved 1,300 troops from Dunkirk. On the second occasion of returning to England they encountered the sailing barge Pudge and towed her back. Three hours later they arrived safely in Ramsgate. Pudge spent the rest of her war service mainly sailing between London and Ipswich. After the war Pudge continued her work with the London and Rochester Trading Company and in 1968 when she was finally retired and sold to the Thames Barge Sailing Trust, they re-rigged her faithfully in accordance with her original design, with advice from professional barge skippers. Put into dry dock at Rick Cardy's yard at Maylandsea in October 2005, she spent 18 months undergoing extensive restoration. Refloated in May 2007, Pudge earns her keep from May to October by taking members of the public out on sailing trips from Maldon and Ipswich, sailing the rivers and coast of Suffolk, Essex and Kent. A maximum of 12 people will can sail on Pudge under the supervision of qualified volunteer crew. Join in the ropework or sit back and enjoy the unbeatable views! See http://www.bargetrust.org/our-barges/pudge .
Source: 1, 2, 3, 4 & 11
Updated: Feb 2011