Rapid I

Boat Specification
Boat Name: 
Rapid I
Boat Type: 
Motor cruiser
Boat Length: 
Boat Beam: 
Boat Draft: 
Boat Displacement: 
Boat Engine: 
Astor petrol/paraffin 50hp
Boat Construction: 
Boat Builder: 
Taylor, Staines.
Boat Year: 

Rapid I is an example of the Little Ships that were swept up into the evacuation of Dunkirk. The narrative is unusual in that the owner was keen to hear about his boats? contribution to the evacuation. This is an abridged extract from a book ?Sixty Years of Yachts? by Herbert E. Julyan, published by Hutchinson and is reproduced with permission.

Rapid I was originally built (with a sister ship Rapid II) for the Rapid Ship Cleaning Co. with the purpose of cleaning ships in port of their accumulated weed etc. without the necessity of dry-docking. She was double-ended, half-decked at each end with an open centre section to carry her machinery. The machinery was somewhat strange with an arm carrying a brush 8ft long and about 2ft in diameter. An electric motor rotated the brush whilst another mounted on the arm drove a propeller to force the brush against the hull of the ship. A winch moved the whole arrangement up and down to the keel, then the process was repeated 8ft further along the ship.

Having bought Rapid I in early 1937, Mr P.G. Broom converted her himself into a comfortable cruiser accommodating up to ten people with ?Vi-spring mattresses on the lower berths and on the settees in the saloon.? She also had ?linoleum throughout, mats, rugs, curtains at the portholes and the hundred and one things necessary to make for an enjoyable life afloat.? He completed the fitting out and painting of the boat in mid-1939 when there were already signs of impending war. He and his wife, daughter Joan and two close friends (the Collins) started out on a holiday cruise around the Thames Estuary. Having left Isleworth on the 20th August, they wished to refuel on the 26th at Rochester but because 'the Government had commandeered the oil lorries' they couldn?t purchase any (they did get some later that day). At that time Mr. Collins was handed a letter with orders to report to Weston-super-Mare immediately, so, unhappily, they all five packed and left for home, leaving Rapid at Rochester.

On 2nd September he travelled to Rochester, bringing Rapid home to Isleworth arriving at 1730 on the 3rd September, where he was told of the outbreak of war and the prohibition on the further movement of small craft. Having laid Rapid up Mr Broom used her for occasional meetings of the Converted Cruiser Club.

On May 28th 1940 at about 10pm there was a ring at his front door, answered by his daughter Joan. She called him, saying ?a fireman wanted to speak to him.? It wasn?t - it was a Naval Officer in full uniform wearing a revolver in his holster. ?He asked if I owned Rapid I? Replying in the affirmative he told me the vessel was commandeered and asked how soon I could get under way to Gravesend.? ?I explained that she was high and dry as I was painting her. ?never mind about the paint - we?ll soon knock that off?. He then gave me instructions to unload anything movable as no accommodation was necessary, ?standing room only for the evacuation? and that I was to sail as soon as the tide was convenient.

Having risen at 0500, with his son Gordon, a friend Captain Vic. Grantham and his lorry, they removed all loose equipment to their house, accidentally leaving the curtains at the portholes! They filled tanks with water, petrol, paraffin and oil and at 1030 pushed off and anchored mid-stream to repaint, with some difficulty, her name and number 24D and then weighed anchor for Gravesend.

Whilst passing Tilbury they were hailed and given instruction to go to Gravesend Naval Control centre, take on rations for three days for each man and refuel. They were then to go to Southend Control to join a convoy for Dover. Arriving late in the afternoon they were told instead to travel to Sheerness. As the officer thought that Rapid knew the way they were detailed to lead a small convoy so they set off direct across the Nore Sands. After arriving there they were told to refuel and get a nights sleep as they?d be off in the morning. After a very uncomfortable night - no mattresses! - they went again to the Control centre where they were told to leave their ships and return home by train.

With a lump in his throat Mr Broom, his son and Vic. left Rapid and returned home for a bath and a good night?s sleep.

When the evacuation was over he was impatient for news of his little ship, expecting the Admiralty to inform him where to go to collect her. He had a feeling that news would come soon as he saw batches of disabled small craft being towed up-river by tugs. ?On Sunday morning June 9th someone shouted ?here they come? and I noticed a tug with a number of craft in tow. To my delight there was Rapid I among them. A thunderstorm broke and sounded like a salute of guns to the small fleet.?

?That afternoon I drove over to Teddington and after a lot of argument got aboard Rapid and was shocked to see bloodstains all over the place. She had evidently been in the thick of things as all the stanchions were torn out of her decks. I counted 22 bullet holes and one large hole where a shell splinter had entered, finishing in the galley. The saloon was an awful mess, wet and bloodstained clothing, underclothes everywhere, heaps of cotton wool and our fancy curtains torn into bandages. I really wished she could talk to me and tell me what she?d been through. I did, eventually, learn her secret.?

?Finding a Naval Ratings? luggage label (a Mr Tazziman) on board, I wrote to his home address in the hope of hearing from him. Three weeks later the Admiralty wrote to me saying that they would not be keeping Rapid, and once damages had been assessed and agreed she would be returned to me. Repairs took several months at Chiswick and, wanting her nearby, she was towed from there to Isleworth. Soon afterwards the dock at Chiswick had a direct hit from a flying bomb and many boats were sunk or badly damaged.?

Four years later, in August 1944, Mr Broom heard from his Rating, Mr Tazziman, apologising for the delay in replying. The letter had been copied and sent to him, had never caught up as he had gone down in H.M.S. Southampton, been in hospital for eight months and discharged through wounds received. He wrote that he was part of a crew of four and the large chip out of the steering wheel was caused by a bullet that just missed Tazzimans head! They had worked bringing men off the beach to larger ships lying offshore and had rescued men off the gunboat ?Mosquito? which had been bombed and was sinking.

Next year, at Christmas 1945, his wife gave him a copy of David Divine?s book ?Dunkirk?. In it he discovered that Sub-Lieut J.C. Clarke R.N.V.S. had been aboard Rapid and had been awarded the D.S.C. for, in the citation, ?his commendable initiative and seamanship over a period of 28 hours continuous beach work with Rapid I. He handled a large number of troops during frequent bombing attacks and assisted in rescuing survivors of H.M.S. Mosquito.?

Later, Lieut. Clarke vividly described the difficulties of the evacuation, his worries that Rapid would be capsized by the troops climbing aboard and overloading her and how he manouvered stern first through Mosquito?s rigging as she sank to take off wounded men. In all she carried about 700 men out to other ships, bringing 25 home to Margate after her rudder was damaged by another ship.

Sources : As Rapid I; 1. 23. As Rapide : 2. 3. 4. 5. 11, 19, 22,

Updated 17/12/99