Boat Type: Former Admiral’s steam pinnace/ barge
Length: 40 ft
Beam: 10 ft
Draft: 4 ft 6 ins
Displacement: 15 tons
Engine: 1 x Gray type 6-72 (72hp); 1 x Ailsa Craig LBR4 (20hp)
Construction: Double diagonal teak on oak frames
Builder: Currently unknown; Conversion in 1924/5 by W.H. Everton and Co. Worcester
Vere was built for the Admiralty in 1905, and it is believed that she was an Admiral’s steam barge. There is circumstantial evidence that she may have been assigned to HMS Dreadnought but the elusive serial numbers which would prove the case have not been found.
In 1923, she was purchased by Capt. Bernard Fray who had her converted into a “Gentleman’s yacht” at W.H. Everton’s yard in Worcester. Details of the lavish conversion, which included a suit of sails as well as two unequal petrol engines and raising her deck by 2ft 6ins to provide better headroom, are described in detail in “The Motor Boat” magazine in October 1925. The strong seaworthy hull (with 31/2in. x 5in. solid oak frames planked in double diagonal teak) of the pinnace was retained and a teak and mahogany super-structure added for cruising comfort. Steel-covered rubbing bands were added to save her from damage when passing through locks. Inside, the 3 cabins were lined with tapestries. There was comfortable sleeping, cooking and washing facilities for six people. On the after deck there was room to lounge in deck chairs when the weather was kind and to launch the mahogany dinghy from its davits. She had two engines of unequal power: a 25/30hp Sterling and a 10/12hp Universal as well as a 2hp generator. For added safety she had a foresail, a gaff-rigged main and a small mizzen - a total sail area of 195 sq. ft. But Capt. B.G. Fray, the owner who had her converted, added a 98 sq. ft. square sail for running before the wind. She was indeed, as the 1925 magazine article claimed, "fitted out regardless of expense. “Captain Fray named her VERE as a compliment to his wife – Vere Croxhall Fray.
In July 1936, Vere came into the hands of William Charles Gatward Metcalfe and his business partner Stanley Hillier. She was berthed at Bradwell-on-Sea in Essex. In August 1939 Vere was requisitioned by the Admiralty for “ARP” work and it is possible that this involved mine-hunting in the Thames Estuary. Later, in May 1940, William Metcalfe, unusually, skippered Vere himself to Dunkirk on several trips, and they are credited with the rescue of 346 British and Allied troops.
After the war, Vere had a number of owners and spent over 40 years on the Chichester canal as a much loved houseboat. One of her owners, N. Perfect, a schoolmaster, who inherited the Vere from his father, recalls his surprise when he carried out restoration work to her timbers and came across 2 German machine-gun bullets embedded in her frames. However, sadly in October 2006 she sank in shallow water as a result of substantial damage from water penetration through the outer skin. She was raised by the Receiver of Wreck and was about to be broken up when a group of maritime enthusiasts rescued her and removed her to the Isle of Wight.
Vere is currently (July 2012) undergoing complete restoration in Cowes, Isle of Wight, at J Samuel White’s shipyard where it is believed she was built in 1905. Her history is also being researched and new facts are emerging about her origins, her conversion, and William Metcalfe, her owner from 1936 – 1942, who took her to Dunkirk.
During restoration, many of the original 1905 fittings were discovered and remain intact: these include her one third of a ton brass rudder and cable steering sheaves; the brass wheel; brass cleats and fairleads; the wrought iron stern frame; bronze date stamped lifting eyes; most of her oak frames and double skin diagonal teak construction, and, importantly, the skylights which indicate that she was built as an Admiral’s barge rather than a steam pinnace/armed picket boat. These were all re-used in the 1924/5 conversion. The majority of the internal furnishings and superstructure from 1924/5 have survived and will be refitted.
The intention now is to complete the restoration of Vere as she was in 1940, aided by a comprehensive set of photographs from the 1950s, just 12 years after Dunkirk. The work is being carried out meticulously using traditional methods and materials as far as possible.
She will then be established as a mobile educational memorial to Dunkirk travelling the South Coast ports, the Thames and the Medway. The initial audience will be Junior school pupils who, as part of the National Curriculum, study WW2 including Dunkirk. Vere’s long history, which includes service in both world wars, will provide an inspiring foundation for informing future generations about the extraordinary events in May/June 1940.
Updated: July 2012
Destroyed by fire January 2016 on the Isle of Wight.