Monday, 4 November 2019

Massey Shaw

In early June the TV has been full of the last return of the ‘little ships’ to Dunkirk.  A few days earlier a number of Greenwich people had stood on the London Fire Brigade pier in Lambeth to see Massey Shaw set off down river to join the rest of the fleet at Dover.  The Fire Brigade gave her a good send off with officials, dignitaries - and the pumps - all there to see her go.  Those of us who never saw her on the TV coverage were told by Reg Barter ‘ it was her the TV crew were on’.


The following notes on Massey Shaw are taken from an information sheet compiled by John Furlonger.   

The historic fireboat MASSEY SHAW is named after Sir Eyre Massey Shaw (1830-1908),  first Chief Officer of the London Fire Brigade. She  was ordered by the London County Council for the London Fire Brigade for  £17,000 from J Samuel White of  Cowes Isle of Wight, and commissioned on  July 1935. Her first major "shout' was in September when she attended a huge fire at Colonial Wharf, Wapping. At the outbreak of war she  was stationed at Blackfriars Pier as flagship of the fleet.

In May 1940 the Admiralty asked for a fireboat to be sent to Dunkirk and a crew of 16 LFB River Service volunteers were selected. With a compass bought from a local ships chandlers and brasswork painted grey Massey Shaw proceeded to Ramsgate. On 31st May, navigated by a Royal Navy Sub Lieutenant, she left for Dunkirk - not to fight fires, as  first thought, but to pick up soldiers from Braye Dunes. Although there was no time to swing and correct the new compass against the massive deviation caused by the steel hull, the young sub-Lieut. navigated minefields and treacherous sandbanks following the  smoke rising from Dunkirk.

Massey Shaw ferried over 600 soldiers from the beaches to larger vessels which lay offshore. She made three round trips to return 106 soldiers directly to England. During one of these trips she rescued 40 survivors of the French auxiliary vessel 'Emil de Champ' which had struck a mine and sunk off North Foreland.

Massey Shaw arrived back in London on 5th June 1940. ‘The Thames on Fire’  describes how ‘she was cheered all the way up the river by firemen from the various fire stations and the Brigade’s commanding officer collected the wives and mothers of the crew for a reception at the Lambeth Head Quarters’. She was the only civilian vessel to be 'Mentioned in Dispatches' and several of her crew were honoured including the coxswain, Sub.Officer A.J. May, who was awarded the Navy's Distinguished Service Medal.

On resuming her normal duties she was the first fire appliance to be fitted with wireless.  She played a major role during the Blitz pumping water ashore for the land appliances when mains had been destroyed by bombing.  In 1947 a secret meeting was held on board her in  the Thames Estuary between Herbert Morrison, MP, Chairman of the LCC, and Aneurin Bevin, MP - this would eventually result in the formation of the National Health Service.

Massey Shaw retired in 1971. Her last major 'shouts' were to a huge fire at Tate & Lyle Silvertown and to the steamship 'Jumna' ablaze in the Royal Albert Dock. She was then   moored to a pier at Woolwich  and abandoned. Later she was towed to St. Katharine's Dock as a convenient walkway during dock rebuilding. The GLC, her  owners, proposed to put her on a stick in an ornamental lake in   Thamesmead.

In 1980 Philip Wray, an ex LFB member, was so appalled that he formed a Charitable Preservation Society. He leased  her from the GLC and set about long term working preservation  So, 65 years after her launch, her two massive 8 cylinder Gleniffer diesel engines coupled to pumping machinery made by Merryweather's of Greenwich, are both still in working order.

She was present at the opening of the Thames Flood Barrier, escorted The Queen on VJ Day and HMY Britannia on her final visit to the Pool of London. The last surviving member of the crew of wartime Dunkirk volunteers R.W.J ‘Dick’ Helyer BEM  is President of The Massey Shaw & Marine Vessels Preservation Society Ltd.  - a charity that is entirely dependant upon the support of its members,  sponsors and public donations in ensuring the long term preservation of this unique and historic vessel.


                      LOA  - 78ft                                                                     Beam 13ft 6 ins                           
                      Draft 3ft 9 ins                                                                 Air Draft 15ft
                      Gross Tonnage 50.54 tons                                              Speed 12 knots
                      Monitor 1 x 3 inch                                                          Endurance 30 hours
                      Deliveries 8 Surelock Couplings                                    Salvage Heads - 2 twin 5 in
                      Engines - Twin 8 cyl Glenniffer DC8 165 bhp (each) Diesel)
                      Pumps Twin Merryweather 4 stage 8 in Centrifugals 1,500 gpm each
                      Foam - 40 x5 gal. Pails 1 x Pyrene mechanical foam generator and knapsack tank.
                      Auxiliary Power - Russell Newbury D2 2 cyl. Diesel driving 110v generator 12v                                dynamo - 2 cyl. Compressor for radial main engine air starters.
                      Bunkers - 500 gallons diesel


On a pouring wet day GIHS & GLIAS members visited Massey Shaw at Wood Wharf.  A GLIAS members who went was Peter Skilton - here is some of his report from the GLIAS Newsletter:

‘In spite of a drizzly cold morning we had an excellent visit to the Massey Shaw fireboat ....  members of the preservation society welcomed us aboard, fortified us with hot drinks and biscuits and told us the fascinating history of this boat and her valiant crew. Space on board was at a premium (as on most vessels) and as we sat huddled together listening to the story of this craft's part in the evacuation of British and French troops from Dunkirk, we could only wonder at the cramped conditions those poor wet souls endured as they were brought hack to the relative safety of England

Such stories brought the vessel's past to life for me.  There are sites and projects that I have visited and upon leaving have thought: 'That is worthwhile’... when I stepped ashore from the Massey Shaw, I felt she was a very special project and deserved as much assistance as possible. I can  promote this good cause at every opportunity and recommend GLIAS members visit the Massey Shaw when visits are available ‘ 
Peter Skilton

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