A FEW weeks back I asked whether any readers remembered the boatyards which were reputed to have built motor launches, motor torpedo boats and other craft for the Royal Navy during the Second World War.
Well, I’ve been absolutely knocked out by the response with so many of you contacting me to share your memories.
Among those who contacted me was Ron Williams, 83, of Ottershaw, who remembers all too clearly the construction of a whole range of launches for military and related uses during that time.
He tells me: “I joined James Taylor of Chertsey as an apprentice engineer in 1943 and they were building lots of naval launches. Their yard was just downstream from Chertsey Bridge.
“The biggest ones were 112-foot long high speed motor launches for the Navy but they also built 16-foot fast runabouts – they used to call them ‘skimmers’ – 35-foot seaplane tenders and 52-foot fire floats which were equipped with huge pumps for firefighters to pump river water up when fighting blazes along the river caused by air raids.”
Ron says the yard normally had two of the big launches on the stocks at any one time – it was a real production line – and as soon as one was finished and launched, work would start on the next.
He added: “I think some of the launches we built were used by the navy in the raid on the dry dock at St Nazaire when the destroyer, HMS Campbelltown, packed with explosives, was used to ram the dock gates to stop the Germans using it to repair their battleships.”
Ron also remembers that, after the war, Taylor’s turned their 112-foot launches into ‘gentleman’s yachts’ and he still has the instructions when he went on the official sea trials of the MY Aigrette which he believes was being built for a Middle Eastern Sheikh.
“It was the only time I actually got to go out on one of the boats and the thing I remember most about it is that we ate like kings,” he chuckles.
David Prior, of Hamm Court, is another who remembers the big launches built by Taylor’s, and by neighbouring Bates Yard at Chertsey,.
‘I remember they were so big that they had to take them through Shepperton Lock before they put the rubbing strakes on them,” he said. (The rubbing strakes were the timber stringers along the side of the vessel designed to limit the damage caused by coming alongside another ship or dockside). “They simply would not have fitted in the lock if they’d put them on at the yard,” he adds. David also has first hand knowledge of the fire floats built by Taylor because he bought one in the 1950s and converted it to a yacht
Allan Pady also served as a boatbuilding apprentice, but this time at Walton Yacht Works, which was located opposite what is now Walton Marina, where the posh new flats now look out over the Thames.
“I was 16 when I joined them in 1940,” says Allan, “and they were building craft including 60-foot motor torpedo boats, 55-foot air sea rescue launches and 45-foot admiralty launches right down to 30-foot police boats.”
Again, Allan tells me that Walton Yacht Works had two big building sheds and slipways so that there were always at least two big launches under construction.
I’m so grateful to all those who have contacted me about the fascinating wartime history of our stretch of the river – and I’ll always be pleased to here from others who have their own memories of the time. I think it’s so important to preserve them for future generations.
I’ll be including some more reader’s recollections in a few week’s time but next week, our old cabin cruiser, Terra Nova, takes her last trip of the season.