The London Boat Show is the showcase for all things connected with the boating world and is usually first place to see the latest marine innovations, design and technology. The 2016 Show hosts over 400 gleaming new boats and plenty of other nautical equipment. For all of the latest marine technology, it was outside in the quayside where I came across a group of historic boats and one boat in particular that is very familiar to those who live or work around West India Dock.
I was fortunate to be present in late 2013 when the Massey Shaw arrived and was lowered into West India Dock where it has been berthed every since. Although it is often overlooked when other ships visit the dock, Massey Shaw is one of the most interesting boats in the dock and has a remarkable history.
Massey Shaw was built by J Samuel Whites at Cowes and launched in 1935, she was named after Sir Eyre Massey Shaw, the Superintendent of the Metropolitan Fire Brigade (now the London Fire Brigade). When the ship was delivered to the Fire Brigade, it saw action soon afterwards when it played its part in putting out a major fire in Wapping. A newspaper report of 1935 gives more of the details.
Colonial Wharf at Wapping , Sept. 26. Twenty-four hours after the out break of fire at the Colonial Wharf, Wapping, firemen are still at work, seeking to subdue the flames which, though under control, continue to burn fiercely through the lower floors, with occasional explosions. The walls are gradually collapsing, and the stream is flowing with liquid rubber from the burnt stores. The river floats continue their attack on the burning building, and firemen are perched precariously on cranes on adjacent wharfs. Fire engines from all parts of London and the suburbs were arriving during the day, bringing men to relieve those who had been on continuous duty for long hours, and a few of whom had suffered minor injuries. It is expected that it will be days before the fire is extinguished. It spread to an adjoining warehouse today, but was controlled. The district is covered with soot, and the schools and tenements are uninhabitable.
The London Fireboat ‘Massey Shaw’ Approaching Dunkirk at 11pm, 2 June 1940 by Rudolf Haybrook, Date painted: c.1940 Collection: IMW (Imperial War Museums). Haybrook was one of the ‘Fireman Artists’ in WW2.
However it was in the Second World War that the boat really made its name. The boat played a major part in protecting the Thames riverside in the war, but it gained national fame by being one of the small boats that went over to Dunkirk to rescue British troops trapped on the beach. Once again a newspaper of 1940 tells the story.
Fire Brigade Boat Aids B.E.F.
LONDON, June 3.-Among vessels of the great fleet participating in the rescue of the B.E.F., London’s fire boat Massey Shaw was not the least prominent. Volunteer firemen manned the Massey Shaw, and under the command of a naval lieutenant they crossed the Channel on Friday and brought back 60 soldiers from the beach. Under a naval crew, she returned to Dunkirk on Saturday and transferred 500 men from the shore to larger ships, and then brought back 46 to England. Later taking aboard a volunteer crew, the Massey Shaw resumed her saving work.
Taking a small fireboat over the channel was a major undertaking, the craft was built to go up and down the Thames not to cross the sea. The courage of the crew in Dunkirk made the Massey Shaw famous, however further heroics would be needed for the next few years when the small fireboat put out countless fires from the Blitz and other bomb attacks. Due to the damage on shore to roads and water mains, the fireboats were often the main way that fires near the river could be extinguished.
The Massey Shaw carried on in service after the war until the 1960s when she became a reserve boat. In the 1970s, the Massey Shaw was decommissioned and remained moored pending the LFB’s decision on her future. By the 1980s, Philip Wray, Dick Helyer, and several other concerned individuals found the Massey Shaw abandoned in St Katharines Dock and began to lobby the Fire Authority to save this historic vessel. Gradually a Society was founded and restoration began, a lot of hard work undertaken by volunteers was undone in 1990 when The Massey Shaw sunk close to the LFB Headquarters at Lambeth. The boat was salvaged and restoration began again until the Massey Shaw was seaworthy enough to attend the Association of Dunkirk Little Ships (ADLS) 50th Anniversary return to Dunkirk.
Since 2000, the Massey Shaw has been seen at numerous events along the river and on television on the programme Salvage Squad on Channel 4, a Heritage Lottery Fund grant has allowed more restoration and the funding of a education project. In May 2015 , Massey Shaw returned to Dunkirk with the “Little Ships” armada to commemorate the 75th Anniversary of Operation Dynamo and the evacuation of troops from the beaches in 1940.
Even if you do not visit the Boat Show, when you around West India Dock, look out for one of the heroic little boats of the Second World War.
If you would like to find out more about the boat and the Trust, visit their website here