Type: Cockle Bawley
Draft: 2ft 6ins
Displacement: 16 tons
Engine: Ford 80 Diesel
Construction: Carvel, pitch pine on oak
Builder: Haywood, Leigh-on-Sea
Defender was built in 1920 by Haywood, of Leigh-on-Sea in Essex, gaff cutter rigged, with a short mast, bowsprit, three foresails and a powerful diesel engine. Traditionally, the Leigh cockle boats were only 36 feet long and not only had a shallow draft, but were also light, so that they could be beached as the tide went out, allowing their crews to collect the cockles before the tide came in to refloat their craft.
Defender was the first of a new design, which was heavier, so that she could carry a crew of up to ten. This was to enable her to be more productive. But they soon discovered that her greater weight meant that she had to be beached further out, with a longer walk for her crew and a shorter time before the tide refloated her. Only two of the new design were ever built.
On 31st May 1940, she and her sister ships left for Dunkirk. Defender carried one RNVR officer, Sub Lieut. Soloman - later to receive the Navy's Distinguished Service Cross for valour - in charge of the Leigh cockle boats Letitia, Renown, Endeavour, Reliance and Resolute. Between 1820 and 1840 the flotilla had scattered during an enemy air attack. By 1850 RAF Spitfires had driven off the attackers and 5 Dorniers had crashed into the sea. At 1915 the flotilla, now reunited, reached Dunkirk Roads but found it impracticable to work off the beach. At 2130 they therefore started embarking troops from outside the jetty and transferring them to the schuyt Tilly and other ships. By 2240 the strong swell made work from the outside of the mole difficult, so they entered the harbour in formation and loaded troops to be transferred to other ships, including the Sarah Hyde and the Ben & Lucy.
At 0300 it was time to return to Ramsgate where Defender arrived in company with Resolute, landing her load of soldiers, including the Colonel commanding the Royal Worcestershire Regiment, several officers of the Cameron Highlanders and 60 men. In all, the Leigh Cockle ships had rescued about 1,000 soldiers.
After the war the Defender was converted into a comfortable sea going cruising boat with a 50ft mast and a Bermudan rig. Under her shallow draft hull, she has a drop keel and she was much loved by her owners, which included Comdr. P.F. Clayton RN, his wife and six children.
On 22nd January 1965 they received a letter from the Sunday Times explaining that to mark the 25th Anniversary of Dunkirk, a return by the Little Ships was planned in May. This was the first they knew that Defender had taken part in the Evacuation. It took them three weeks and thirty-one telephone calls to confirm the fact and to get in touch with one of her Dunkirk crew members.
Defender returned to Dunkirk in 1965, this time with Ted "Edge" Harvey and George "Pie" Osborne on board. The latter had lost his brother, Leslie and cousin Frank Osborne when the Renown was sunk on the way home from Dunkirk, in 1940 so it was fitting that he was asked to lay the wreath from Defender in memory of all those killed at sea.
Richard Dimbleby was the commentator for the live television coverage of the return on 6th June 1965, and Defender became a film star. The final shot showed a flag-bedecked Defender slipping out of the Bassin du Commerce with the message: "au revoir" spelled out in signal flags at her mast head.
Her flirtation with the film world nearly proved fatal for the illustrious Little Ship. She was chosen again as an extra by Television and a clever young film director had the bright idea to burn her as a climax for an episode of a soap opera, but she escaped on that occasion. But the future of Defender was not bright. She fell on hard times and in the Autumn of 1999 she finally gave up the struggle.