Wednesday, 26 January 2011

Rosemaries secret wartime history.

John Drinkwater remembers the Schleswig-Holstein, a German warship moored up at St Mawes on a 'friendly' visit in the years 1938 and 1939. This picture is from the German Federal Archive.

Having nearly completed the 40yrs of Houseboat history for the Falmouth built Rosemarie; 10 short extracts of which are available to view online at, I am now researching the boats early story to make up the entire film which will be titled; ‘The many Romances with Rosemarie’, it will be the whole life story of the boat, as told by those who remember her fondly.

During this fascinating research it has come to light that the Rosemarie worked for the admiralty during and after the war up until 1948. Her duties were described by John Andrews and Douglas Sawle of St Mawes, who remembered the Rosemarie as an ‘Examination ship’ with a gun mounted on the deck, working around the Lizard peninsula while the boat herself was stationed at Penzance during the war. They also described how, on the troops return from Dunkirk; Rosemarie was the boat which checked over each vessel and took the names of all retuning soldiers for the official listings, as the troops disembarked at Falmouth harbour.

I have also found a record of the Rosemarie going over to Dunkirk on Friday the 31st of May; this would have been at the climax of the beach evacuations. It seems that Rosemarie, ‘Rose Marie’ as she is officially listed, was towed over, by the Dutch skoot ‘Hilda’ along with five other motorboats; Moss Rose, Lady Haig, Britannic, Gispy King , Golden Spray II, and two life-boats. The skoot Hilda from London, was captained by Lieutenant A. Gray of the Royal Navy, and her operations would have taken place on the Bray Beach at Dunkirk. I am still awaiting verification of my research from the Association of Dunkirk Little ships as I would ideally like to have the Rosemaries status as a Dunkirk Little Ship officially recognized.

Rosemarie is also remembered by John Drinkwater of St Mawes in the film ‘The many Romances with Rosemarie’, John verifies her duties as described by John Andrews and Douglas Sawle, but also describes her as working for ‘River Patrol’. In 1938, John Drinkwater was serving his apprenticeship working at Freshwater Boat-yard under the locally renowned boat-builder Frankie Peters. John recalls that Frankie ‘Skippered’ the Rosemarie on her River Patrol duties with the additional support of crew members; Fred Hamblin and Walter Hitchins. I would like to put out an appeal to any family members who may have photographs of; Frankie Peters, Walter Hitchins and Fred Hamblin, which they would be glad for me to include in the film. Please contact;

Monday, 17 January 2011

Peter Newman re-united with his fathers ferry the Freelance

This morning I received an e-mail from the current owner of the Freelance; Jeremy Mitchell, another boat-owner passionately tracing the history of his vessel. He had read about the Freelance in the Ferry-boat article on the Rosemarie published in last weeks West-Briton.

In my interview with Peter Newman last year, he remembered the Rosemarie working as a passenger launch around 1948, in competition to his father Rodney Newmans business running the Freelance, which had started a little earlier in 1946. The Freelance was built in the West Indies in the 1930's and was brought to Falmouth on the deck of a ship, sold off and converted into a passenger vessel.

Jeremy has now managed to fill in some of the gaps in the Freelances history, and Peter has been re-connected to his fathers boat, which I'm sure He is relieved to find in such capable hands.

Jeremy said "It is only due to your article in the West Briton that I have found out the missing history of the Freelance from the 1930's until the late 1960's. I Googled "Ferry Falmouth" and found details and pictures of all of Newmans Cruises ferry boats including the Freelance, back to the 1940's on It was mentioned that the Freelance was sold by the Newmans in the late 1950's to Falmouth owners for use as a dive and salvage ship to a salvage company in Falmouth. My father bought the boat approximately 10years later from the salvage company."

Jeremy inherited the boat from his father who bought it around 1968 from a salvage company in Falmouth. The Freelance was then moored at Port Navas on the Helford river until approximately 1972 when it was moved to Camborne.

"The Freelance is 30ft. long by 9ft. wide and is build from teak which is why it has stood up so well to being stored for so long. It was a project that was never finished due to having parts that were missing from the engine and were no longer available from the manufacturer. I have spent 6 years looking for the missing parts on the Internet. All the parts that were missing have turned up on eBay."

A happy end indeed, and personally I am so grateful that Jeremy has contacted me and that I could pass on Peters contact to him! Peter gave me so much priceless information about the Rosemarie, and his time for the interview and the film where also given free, and from the goodness of his heart. So I am delighted that in a roundabout way he has had a universal return, in the form of something more valuable than cash, a link back to the past, his own father and re-awakened memories of that time when the Rosemarie and the Freelance graced the river Fal.

Friday, 14 January 2011

Interview with John Drinkwater 14/01/11

Had a fantastic interview today with another St Mawes old boy. John served his shipwrights apprenticeship at Freshwater yard in 1938 under Frankie Peters, before joining the Royal air force and going to war. He remembers the Rosemarie as a black boat which was painted grey during the war period, and with a gun mounted on her front deck.

Frankie Peters was a renound boat builder and made many of the St Mawes One-Design boats, which still race today. John remembers being left with dull jobs like bailing out the boats in the yard while Frankie took the Rosemarie out on River Patrol as her skipper, round the Lizard peninsula and often down as far as Penzance. Joining Frank as crew on the Rosemarie was Walter Hitchins and Mr Hamblin as Engineer, who lived in an interesting Houseboat; a 1st world war Motor-Launch moored in the river off Polvarth Yard.

As it had finally stopped rainning, I went down to Freshwater Yard after this inspirational interview, to see if I could film it as the working yard it is today. Unfortunately I was not greeted with a possitive response! Admitily it was a last minute thought to fire off an e-mail this morning before I left, explainning that I was going to be in the area and out-linning what it was I wanted to do, but I don't think that that could justify this curt reply e-mail awaiting me when I got home;

As the boatyard has been completely modernised in the past 10 years there is nothing or no one here who could help you with your project. I am sorry but we cannot give you permission to film here at any time.


Seems some people have a generousity of spirit, which others can barely perceive, let alone value. I am proud to say that my film is brimming with fine people and their wonderful stories which they are only to glad to share, and that they have a genuine passion for the history of their village, which is not based soley on the value of bricks and mortar, but on the community (whats left of it). Who needs anything less than that? Some you win and some you lose!

Tuesday, 11 January 2011

Interview with the two oldest men in St Mawes

Interview with John Andrews and Douglas Sawle 9/01/11

These two old friends often enjoy reminiscing, and comparing their memories so it was a privilege for me to share their company. They compete with each other for the position of; Oldest resident, in the small costal village of St Mawes, Cornwall, with Douglas Sawle coming in for the cup at 91yrs young. Winning the race is something Douglas is used to, from his sailing days in the St Mawes ‘One-Design’ class.

Not much remains of the 1930s Cornwall, which existed when the Rosemarie was built, but both John and Douglas can remember the Henderson family living at Greystones, Tredenham Road, St Mawes. For me this second-hand account is a true treasure, for it is as near as I can possibly get to the man who first perceived and then facilitated the building of Rosemarie at R.S Burts & Sons, Little Falmouth; Mr Arthur Henry Henderson. I heard for the first time; a description of the boat in her original condition, apparently she was ‘Spotless’ in a Black finish with white trim. She was described as a luxury passenger boat, designed for private picnics and costal excursions, visiting the Helford and pleasure cruising up the coast as far as Looe and Fowey. She also had her own permanently employed deck-hand, who would have been dressed in the strict attire of that time, sporting a white-topped flat cap during the summer months and a black cap for the winter. During the winter months the Rosemarie was laid up on Polvarth beach where she would have been scrubbed annually and re-painted ready for the next season.

I happen to have a very fortunate photograph of Tredenham Road, from my Great Auntie Dees collection; I estimate it was taken in the late 1930s. The house in the centre of the picture with the flag-pole in the garden is ‘Greystones’ (the house where Henderson lived) and I guess my great-grandmothers house would have been one of the neighbouring buildings, as I know they also lived in Tredenham Road at this time, and why else would Dee have kept this post-card? Perhaps they knew one another; it’s quite a thought, and certainly a happy co-incidence.

I also learned some more about the Rosemaries wartime history from John and Douglas as they recall the Rosemarie at the return from Dunkirk, and the troops coming ashore in their masses. It seems she worked as an inspection ship, in Falmouth harbour before going down to Penzance for the duration, which was all news to me.

Rosemaries official registry was closed in 1948, and her last registered owner was Francis Bertram Sawle, first cousin to Douglas Sawle and married to a Clode. This makes further sense of the ferryboat or ‘Passenger’ boat history (as I stand corrected by the lads) which I already possess. It seems that Francis B. Sawle and Tommy Clode were in a business partnership, and ran ferries and then hire boats up to the late 1970s. The Rosemarie ran from St Mawes to the Prince of Wales Pier and was hired out for excursions until the mid 50s.