Type: Admiral's Barge
Beam: 9ft 6ins
Draft: 3ft 6ins
Displacement: 27 tons
Engine: Perkins Diesel
Construction: Teak on oak
Builder: German Imperial Navy
Getting out of tight corners was nothing new to the Count Dracula when Cmdr. Ewart Brookes, DSC, RNVR, took her to Dunkirk. She started life in 1913, powered by a steam engine, in the Imperial German Navy. Kaiser Wilhelm II gave her to Admiral von Hipper who took her as his admiral's barge to every ship he sailed in. He used her when he left the Lutzow, just before she sank in the battle of Jutland in 1916, to transfer to the battleship Moeltke. Later he took her with him to the Grand Battle Cruiser Hindenburg and that could have been her end, when having surrendered, the German fleet was scuppered at Scapa Flow in 1918. But a young German sailor could not bear to see the beautiful boat go down, so he released her from her davit winches and as the Hindenburg sank, she floated free and was salvaged by the Royal Navy.
She was a private yacht until her owner, Carl Greiner, sent his son Alan to take her to Ramsgate, where Cmdr. Brookes took charge. He had already spent two days and a night at the beaches and his previous ship was sunk under him.
He was delighted at the speed and power of Count Dracula and he took two 35ft lifeboats in tow. They were loaded to the gunwales with troops and Count Dracula lifted 702 British as well as 10 Belgian soldiers. She ended up quite well armed, having collected, with her troops, three Brens and one French Hotchkiss machine gun, which enabled them to have a shot or two at the Stuka dive bombers.
In Cmdr. Brookes' own words, "I finally brought her back to Ramsgate with 38 soldiers on board, Royal Engineers, who had spent all the week on the beach by the Casino, building a temporary pier of Thames barges."
"I felt rather pleased at the last little jab because at midnight on June 1st, the order was passed: 'all small boats back to England under escort.' - German 'E-Boats' had come down the coast. The intention was to abandon the Royal Engineers and to allow them to get into the town of Dunkirk as best they could - if they could. A difficult job then, because the Germans were close to the beach and had it under machine gun fire."
"A Mr. Jeffries from Brighton (a garage owner, I believe) and myself decided to take a chance and see if we could get the Royal Engineers off. We did. All of them. And as they came away, they were exchanging fire with German troops in lorries or armoured cars. A close thing. I received a reprimand for leaving the convoy of small ships, but as it was one of many reprimands I had during the war for doing odd things, I didn't worry a great deal."
After the war, Count Dracula went back to the Greiner family, who eventually sold her and lost touch over the next 20 years until, one day, Mrs. Greiner rediscovered her being used as a houseboat on the Upper Thames. This is how the boat came into membership of the ADLS. She joined the 1980 return to Dunkirk and was then sold to Richard Huggett who spent five years getting her into shape for the return in 1985. He received an inscribed tankard from Vice-Admiral Sir John Roxborough KCB, CBE, DSO,. DSC, for saving the old lady. But the yard had left out some keel bolts and a few days later, Count Dracula sank. But she was soon lifted and is now in excellent shape, owned by Mike Hamby.
There was a strange misunderstanding about Count Dracula's connection with the Royal Engineers. When Lt.Col. Davies, commanding 38 Engineer Regiment was told that there was a ship which was reported to have gallantly rescued '38 Royal Engineers under fire', he thought that this referred to his unit. In fact, of course, they meant 38 men of the Royal Engineers. To compound the confusion, the 38 men rescued were also members of 38 Field Company, Royal Engineers! By this time, Col. Davies' interest and admiration had been aroused and he was determined for his Unit to honour the Little Ship.
So, 46 years after the event, Count Dracula received a plaque, now displayed on the bulkhead of her admiral's saloon, commemorating her valiant deeds. Present at the ceremony when the plaque was presented, was Sgt. Chalmers, of the Royal Engineers who is now a Chelsea pensioner and remembers being one of the 38 men who came back on Count Dracula that day from Dunkirk. He never forgot the name of the Little Ship that saved his life and her tall red funnel which, like much of her timbers and deck gear remains unchanged since the day she was launched at Wilhelmshaven, on the North Sea coast of Germany, by the Kaiser in 1913.
If it's still the same one, the Perkins diesel engine in the Count Dracula was donated by an old Massey Ferguson combine harvester on my father's farm. Richard Huggett (a previous owner of the Count) was my uncle and I remember that the cylinders were full of water when the engine was removed from the combine. After he picked up a set of gaskets from Invicta Motors for free (one set left on the shelf) and fitted a marine conversion kit Richard got it to run again.
I remember this vessel it was moored at anchor bay [Erith] on the lower reaches of the Thames .The owner was sheaving the hull with plywood as it was leaking quiet bad .A few years later as a fisherman working out of Folkestone I heard it call on the VHF. It had been on a trip back to Dunkirk with the Little Ships. The owner had a terminal illness as I remember and was determined to do this one last trip with her. All this was 30 years ago but I still remember the funnel and the engine which was a petrol Kelvin.
The Count Dracula became a houseboat on the Thames at Twickenham after the war where my Grandparents Patrick and Cath Casey lived there with my Aunt June and my Mum Kathryn. They were there during their secondary school years as they went to Twickenham County Grammer school and used to swim off the boat.
They moved out of the area and then I do not know what happened to the boat after that, but some of the details are above.
With research by my nephew in 2008, we have traced down the Count Dracula and found that it is moored in Hayling Island and has recently been available for sale.
As a young engaged couple, we looked at this as a houseboat moored opposite the Thames Court hotel in Shepperton in 1963, we could have bought it for £1,000 but could not raise a loan on it . We often think of it. The community moored around it used to go to Kew each year to re- paint the hull and BBQ and party all the way back.