Type: Auxiliary Ketch
Length: 44ft 6ins
Beam: 10 ft 9ins
Displacement: 11.75 tons
Engine: Petter Diesel
Construction: Pitch pine on oak
Builder: David Hillyard, Littlehampton
The only surviving David Hillyard sailing yacht to take part in 'Operation Dynamo' - and one of the very few pure sailboats, rather than motor-sailors, Windsong was not ideal for evacuating troops off a beach. In the light airs prevailing on 1st June and with only a small Ailsa Craig auxiliary engine, she was neither fast nor very manoeuvrable. She must have been at considerable risk working close inshore amid bombing, shellfire and a host of every conceivable kind of ship, going in every direction.
She had not been requisitioned by the Royal Navy prior to 'Operation Dynamo', as had the majority of the 'Little Ships'; her owner had laid her up for the duration at Hillyards yard in Littlehampton on the South Coast of England. However, in response to the broadcast request for every kind of craft to be made available, her owner, Mr. G.L. Dalton, made her ready for sea, and on the 31st of May sailed her to Dover and reported at 1840 that he was "ready for sea and able to take thirty passengers" - which said more for his valor and patriotism than for the capacity of his vessel. He was told to report to Ramsgate and there in company with eleven other small craft, he was towed over to Dunkirk by the trawler Kinder Star. In David Divines' book their arrival is described by Mr. Dalton: 'We were on the point of making for the beach when we were heavily raided by dive-bombers, one large salvo just missing our trawler. We were ordered to cut adrift and make back; it was every man for himself.'
Windsong was back in Dover at 2115 on 2nd June. At this point she was taken over by T.H. Falkingham and A. Barden; it is not clear if they were naval ratings or fishermen recruited for 'Operation Dynamo'. By any reckoning Mr. Dalton had by then been without sleep for over 48 hours and was probably in no condition to make another crossing of the English Channel. Clearly the replacement crew did, for a later document refers to T.H. Falkingham and A. Barden, both of Windsong, 'who volunteered and deserve a medal.'
After Operation Dynamo, she was formally taken over by the Navy. In company with Sundowner she went to Brightlingsea on the East Coast, where, under the command of a Mr. Birtwhistle (a solicitor called up for the duration), she was used as a patrol and mine-spotting vessel in the Thames Estuary.
Mr. Dalton did not retain ownership long after the war and by 1950 Windsong went to work for her living as a charter yacht. In the course of one of these she was caught in atrocious weather in the Channel. With all but the mizzen sail blown out and the auxiliary engine lifeless the skipper hoisted a distress signal which was eventually answered by the 600 ton German freighter SS Feronia. After a struggle a tow-line was passed, but in the course of this the Feronia's counter came down with a sickening crunch on Windsong’s' stem post, leaving a scar she still bears today. The long tow at five kts up-channel then commenced, and although the tow-line parted twice, they eventually entered the Solent. By this time the Press were alert to the story, for the Feronia was the first German ship to enter Spithead since the end of the Second World War.
The fifth owner in Windsong's ‘Blue Book' was Lady Effie Millington-Drake, wife of Sir John, who was 'our man' in Buenos Aires at the time of the Battle on the River Plate. It was he who contrived to delay the departure of the German Battle Cruiser Graf Spee from Montevideo by a series of spurious radio messages, enabling the Royal Navy to reinforce Admiral Harewood's cruiser force waiting outside, so that they could successfully attack her when she left neutral waters. She was finally scuttled in the mouth of the river Plate to avoid falling into British hands.
The present, and thirteenth, owner of Windsong is Col. (Retired) M.N.V. Duddridge, OBE, who bought her in 1986. For six years he moored her in Holland and sailed extensively in Dutch waters and up the East Coast of England. In 1992 he and his wife sailed Windsong from her winter mooring on the river Maas to Cyprus in the Eastern Mediterranean. With the masts down the first month was spent in negotiating the rivers and canals (and the 209 locks!) of Belgium and France. At Marseilles the masts were stepped and for the next two months Windsong turned heads in the Mediterranean. Elba, Capri, the Corinth Canal and the Greek islands of the Aegean were all graced by the indefatigable old lady.
Seven years under the Mediterranean sun has caused Windsong's timbers above the waterline to dry and shrink alarmingly. However, a major re-fit ashore has just been completed, which included some re-caulking, and a completely new paint scheme has restored her to her former glory, befitting of the sole representative of the Association of Dunkirk Little Ships in the most Easterly corner of the Mediterranean.
Windsong’s history 1968 - 1984
I am the Son of the late Peter Walter Whitfield (Died, Sept2009) who was the Proud Owner and Skipper of 'Windsong' for 16 years (between 1968 & 1984).
I was browsing the internet in search of 'Windsong' and from what I've been told she's still in Cyprus.
I was amazed to find your site and information/history about Windsong ...especially in 1940. Windsong did take people off the beach...an old boy came over to the boat in Dunkirk in 1975 and told us that without Windsong he might not be there!! Also line of bullet holes at an angle across topsides which we found when taking all paint back to bare wood when replacing garboards.
My Father was the person to fix the Bowsprit to Windsong and other modifications over the years of ownership.
As a boy I grew up with 'Windsong' (moored at Portchester) and her sister ship 'Columbine' before her. I have very fond memories of those days and I feel somewhat privileged to have been a part of her history.
I spent many happy sailing trips aboard Windsong back in the 1970s and 80's with my father (Brian Harman) being a good friend of Peter Whitfield... I'm very sorry to hear that he passed away Christopher. I remember spending one memorable trip with you and your American cousin sailing out of Portsmouth harbour.
Peter was one of the people that taught me to sail properly and I spent quite a few trips on Windsong, sailing, helping him fit an electric bilge pump and generally getting in his way!
Windsong was always a delight to sail, and a sight to behold with full sail and the big triangular ghoster set!
Fond memories indeed!