1940 White Orchid
Type: Motor Yacht
Length: 36 ft
Beam: 9 ft
Draft: 3 ft 6 ins
Displacement: 12 tons
Engine: 2 x Morris Petrol
Builder: J A Silver, Rosneath
White Orchid (originally Aquila) was built by James A. Silver at Rosneath, Scotland, in 1932. She was a Dunkirk Little Ship which had led a distinguished and eventful life, grew old gracefully and finally died with dignity.
White Orchid got used to being in the limelight when, in 1935, she led the Thames Silver Jubilee procession in honour of King George V and Queen Mary up the Thames from Teddington Lock. After seven years as a gentleman's motor yacht, she was commandeered by the Royal Navy and went to Dunkirk with the rest of them, operating off the beaches of La Panne.
Following her return from Dunkirk, she was compulsorily acquired by the Admiralty and used as a torpedo recovery vessel on the South Coast of England until 1949. It is strange to find, from the records of so many of the Little Ships, that they did not pass into the ownership of the Admiralty until after their Dunkirk service. The reason is simply that there was no time to go through such formalities when the emergency arose. The acquisition was regularised later when the extreme usefulness of these craft was recognised, their naval crews had got used to them and it was assumed that they might well be needed again.
After the war, White Orchid returned to her original function and her name was changed to Doutelle. She was owned in partnership by Ben and Norman Cannell and participated in the very first return to Dunkirk on the 25th anniversary of Operation Dynamo in 1965. Both Ben Cannell, who became Commodore of the Association of Dunkirk Little Ships in 1975 and his son, Norman who followed in his footsteps as Commodore, have been leading members of the Association since its inception. In 1967, Doutelle was part of the ADLS Guard of Honour at the Tower of London to welcome Sir Francis Chichester on his return from his single-handed circumnavigation of the world. Then, in 1975, Doutelle returned to Dunkirk once more for the 35th anniversary celebrations. Later she played an active part in all the pageants and celebrations which are enacted against the romantic back-ground of the River Thames each summer and are at the heart of English life. For a quarter of a century, Doutelle graced the banks of the Thames at Fawley Meadows during Henley Royal Regatta where the Upper Thames Motor Yacht Club was founded.
In 1986, it was discovered that Doutelle had extensive dry rot in her main frame and beams which, in a boat, is like terminal cancer in one of us. An international marine surveyor and two reputable boat builders, like eminent physicians, pronounced her irreparable and she was put to rest at Thames Ditton in October 1986 -destroyed physically, but not in spirit.
A fitting epitaph to White Orchid and her kind is a poignant poem by John Masefield, the Poet Laureate, who was also a war historian at the time of Dunkirk:
To the Seamen - by John Masefield.
You seamen, I have eaten your hard bread
And drunken from your tin, and known your ways;
I understand the qualities I praise
Though lacking all, with only words instead,
I tell you this, that in the future time
When landsmen mention sailors, such, or such,
Someone will say "Those fellows were sublime
Who brought the Armies from the Germans' clutch."
Through the long time the story will be told;
Long centuries of praise on English lips,
Of courage godlike and of hearts of gold
Off Dunkerque beaches in the little ships.
And ships will dip their colours in salute
To you, henceforth, when passing Zuydecoote.
Updated April 2018