Princess Elizabeth

Boat Specification
Boat Name: 
Princess Elizabeth
Boat Type: 
Paddle Steamer
Boat Length: 
Boat Beam: 
Boat Draft: 
Not known
Boat Displacement: 
388 tons
Boat Engine: 
Steam, oil burning
Boat Construction: 
Pitch pine on oak
Boat Builder: 
Day, Summers, Northam
Boat Year: 

Built in 1927, for the Red Funnel Line, as a ferry between Southampton and the Isle of Wight, Princess Elizabeth, named to commemorate the birth of our present Queen, was the successor to the paddle steamer Queen Mary, which was lost in 1919, after serving in the Royal Navy throughout World War I, and finally in Malta, as a minesweeper.

After twelve years as a ferry and excursion steamer in Bournemouth and the Solent area, at the outset of World War II, Princess Elizabeth was taken over by the Admiralty and converted into a minesweeper (No. J111). A year later, she was on her way to Dunkirk where her first task was to clear the mines from the narrow channel off the beaches, which was the only escape route. Only then could the work of embarking the waiting troops begin. Many of her sister ships, including the Brighton Belle, the Devonia and Gracie Fields were sunk at that time.

On her first journey, on 29th May 1940, she and her fellow minesweepers embarked, in all, 3,415 troops. One of them, the paddle-minesweeper Oriole, had deliberately beached herself early that morning, to allow 2,500 troops to pass over her decks to other ships, before she refloated on the next high tide that evening. When Princess Elizabeth came again, on Saturday, 1st June, she arrived in the middle of a furious air attack when, among others, the destroyers Keith and Baselisk and the minesweepers Skipjack and Brighton Queen were sunk. By evening, the fog came down and Princess Elizabeth had to return to Dover. She made a third trip in the night of 3rd/4th June, joining in the last desperate effort to rescue some of the remaining troops. Among others, she brought back to Dover 500 Frenchmen that day. Before the end of the war, she served as an anti-aircraft vessel. Then, in 1946, she returned to her civilian occupation.

When she was superseded as an excursion boat by more modern vessels, like many old timers, she enjoyed brief fame as a film star, and appeared in the Walt Disney film The Castaways. In 1966, another plan to keep her gainfully employed was to turn her into a casino, but this did not materialise. But in 1970, she was moored just up-stream of London Bridge as a restaurant.

Finally, in January 1988, it was reported that she had been bought by the French typographical group ADAT to be moored on the Seine just outside Paris as the first museum of typographical art. Part of the ship was to be reserved for exhibiting details of her own remarkable history.

She is now owned by the City of Dunkerque.

Source: 1, 3, 4, 5, 10 & 11

Updated: 13/12/99