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Type: Motor Launch
Length: 30ft
Beam: 6ft 6ins
Draft: 1ft 6ins
Displacement: 3.5 tons
Engine: Gray 6-cyl petrol
Construction: Carvel
Builder: H Gibbs, Teddington
Year: 1930

How could an open Thames Day Launch like Lady Isabelle have survived two channel trips in 1940? The answer lies in the miraculously calm sea during the nine days of the evacuation of the BEF, the (British Expeditionary Forces) and the French Ninth Army while the well disciplined and valiant Free French Army steadfastly held back the advance of the Germans. For example, one man who was rowing troops from shore to ship decided to keep rowing to England to deliver his rescued troops because of the congestion and the heavy bombing from the Germans. He then turned his boat round immediately, having delivered his passengers safely on British soil, and returned to Dunkerque to collect a second group.

The open boats like Lady Isabelle at 9.15m, right down to rowing boats were towed in their dozens across the channel by tug, but many of them did not survive that journey, as they were torn apart or crushed. These open boats, such as Lady Isabelle, were exceptional if they survived the evacuation, since their job was to stay, at the beaches, taking men to the British and French naval ships of deeper draught for the channel crossing. The records show that there were at least 700 privately owned, requisitioned, small craft that went to Dunkerque but almost 100 were lost or left behind. However, 385,000 troops, of whom more than 100,000 were French soldiers, were safely brought off la plage du Malo-les-Bains and the British navy carried these exhausted men to safety in England to fight another day. The speed at which this was achieved was only possible with the help of the very brave Little Ships ability to come closer to the shore and bring the troops who were stranded on the beach out to the larger vessels for the return journey.

Stanley Tims of Tims’ Boatyard, Staines, Middlesex on the River Thames, to the West of London, remembers the ?Man from the Ministry? coming to his yard in 1940 to requisition Lady Isabelle for Operation Dynamo. She was under 10 years old, built by Mr H. Gibbs of Hampton Wick near Teddington, Middlesex and fitted with a powerful Gray 6 engine suitable for tidal reaches of the Thames and capable of 12 knots. Originally named Lady Isabelle by the builder, her first owners used their chauffeur to drive them to Staines in her for their weekly shopping trips. They later equipped her with a tasselled canopy for summer shade and renamed her Templecroft, after their home on the river Thames. Mr T Westhead, who reinstated her name to Lady Isabelle, had only bought her in 1938. However, after Dunkerque, her fast engine and police-boat configuration (with her extra small cockpit forward) meant she was ideally suited to river patrol duties. That meant she was one of the last such small boats to return home well after the end of the war. Mr Westhead, who had entrusted his ?new? boat to Stanley Tims, while he was away fighting in the war, was so angry that she had been taken for Operation Dynamo, without his consent, that he immediately removed her from the boat yard in protest.

In 1960 she was back at Tims’ yard, and left to sink for 6 months, where she was found by George Bailey in a derelict condition ready to be burnt. He bought her and had a 4.25m cabin put on for canal cruising and changed her name to Geba. She was then acquired by J Grindley who kept her on the South Oxford Canal and renamed her Carfax Free. Her next owner was Robert Cowley, who used her so extensively cruising the British Waterways that she was given two Inland Waterways Association Silver Awards. Dr Cowley established her membership of The Association of Dunkirk Little Ships in 1976. It had come to light that when Lady Isabelle had been removed from Tims’ boat yard after the war, Mr Tims had retained the treasured brass DUNKIRK 1940 plate from her, which he did not release until such time that he met another owner who cared about her history.

Coventry Boat Builders bought her in 1981 as a restoration project. Once more her original name was reinstated back to Lady Isabelle. In 1987 she was bought by John Richards who continued the restoration work and after detailed research, he had her topsides reconstructed to Gibbs? original design and also had fitted a 1934 Gray 6 engine. She returned to the Thames moored at Shepperton, Middlesex only some 14Km upstream from Gibbs in which she was built and 14Km downstream from Tims? yard from where she was requisitioned for Operation Dynamo.

In 1990, Rosemary and John Richards had Lady Isabelle ferried back to France where, in her immaculate condition, she was placed once more in French waters thanks to the kind assistance of the Yacht Club de la Mer du Nord (YCMN). Unfortunately, the sea conditions were not suitable for a 1930 Gibbs Thames Day Launch to venture out with the parade of the ADLS Fleet off la plage du Malo-les-Bains for the 50th anniversary of Operation Dynamo.

In 2000, her new owners, Diana and Tony Goodhead took Lady Isabelle from the canopied quiet waters of her mooring on the River Wey, at Weybridge, Surrey, through the Thames Lock on the Wey Navigation, into the Thames to travel downstream to Shepperton from where she was slipped out of the fresh water to be towed on to the ferry at Dover to make the crossing to France and once more be back at Dunkerque.

Tony and Diana thanked all the members and staff at the YCMN for their kind assistance in gently launching the elderly Lady Isabelle back into salt water in time to meet and join the main Association of Dunkirk Little Ships Fleet when they arrived from Dover on the 2nd June. The weather on Sunday was suitable for us all to sail out to the parade off la plage du Malo-les-Bains to honour the 60th Jubilee of such a major rescue. Indeed, her rounded hull shape and low centre of gravity meant that Lady Isabelle cut through the waves on that day with much less roll than most of the cabin cruisers, which was a testament to the skill of her builder all those years ago.

Sadly in 2001 Diana passed away and was buried at sea in accordance with maritime tradition. Tony has since taken Lady Isabelle on journeys to Tilbury and Letchlade, passing through all the 44 locks on the Thames. She continues to be maintained to the highest standards, attending as many rallies and being used as often as possible.

Updated: 03/09/99

Further Information:

Mon, 09/01/2017 — 3D Marine

Shipped to United States in Spring 2016. Now owned, again by Miss Victoria Fash.

Wed, 29/02/2012

Changed owners, now lying at Harleyford Marina, Marlow.

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