The German bombing raid on Portsmouth which had started shortly after tea time on the previous day continued on until gone 2am on the following morning of Saturday 11th January 1941.
The city was devastated in this ferocious attack. When dawn broke it became clear that many buildings had been reduced to rubble. At least a couple of hundred people lost their lives with many more injured. The electricity supply was wiped out. There was extensive damage to the water system. The Harbour Station was hit more than once causing serious damage to its structure and to the ship’s adjacent landing stage.
The Southern Railway paddle steamer Merstone was alongside during the raids waiting to take the early morning mail run to Ryde. Some of her crew went ashore to try to help save their loved ones but enough remained aboard for her to use her fire pumps, sourcing water from the harbour, to help put out the blaze on the harbour station, in the general offices and the marine manager’s office. Fortunately I can find no report of Merstone having been hit herself.
With the landing stage badly damaged and unsafe for passenger access a signal was sent to Ryde at dawn to hold the first incoming boat. However, in a spirit of let’s just get on with it and fix things pronto, work started on making things safe immediately and by lunchtime the landing stage was made sufficiently safe to allow the inbound paddle steamer to sail from Ryde at 1.20pm for Portsmouth.
Within two days the whole service was back to normal. That’s the way to do it chaps.
Kingswear Castle returned to service in 2023 after the first part of a major rebuild which is designed to set her up for the next 25 years running on the River Dart. The Paddle Steamer Kingswear Castle Trust is now fund raising for the second phase of the rebuild. You can read more about the rebuilds and how you can help if you can here.
This article was first published on 11th January 2021.