15th December 1940:
Freshwater

15th December 1940:
Freshwater
PS Freshwater.

On Sunday 15h December 1940 Freshwater was alongside at Weymouth preparing to start a new career the following day.

In the Second World War the Government set up an examination service to intercept ships to ascertain who they were, what they were carrying and that their manifests corresponded with their cargoes. After the fall of France in the summer of 1940 there was a change of focus to include the idea that some ships might have evil intent and be surreptitiously planning to blow themselves up causing massive damage when moored alongside in a UK port.

One of the examination stations set up was at Weymouth with its base in the Edward Hotel on the Harbourside. Several of the paddle steamers from the Cosens fleet were taken on charter to steam about intercepting inbound ships coming up Channel which were all required to put into Weymouth Bay to gain clearance.

Victoria leaving Weymouth.

In the autumn of 1940 the Government decided that two of these paddle steamers Empress and Victoria were not really suitable for year round seagoing work not least because of their lack of covered accommodation and that in any case the service generally required only two ships to operate it. One of these was to be Cosens’ old twin funnelled Monarch, renamed HMS Exway.

They looked round for another paddle steamer and in this their beady eyes fell upon the Southern Railway’s Lymington to Yarmouth paddle steamer Freshwater. At 158ft in length she was smaller than Empress, Victoria or Consul, which had also been used in the examination service, and was therefore very economical to operate. She had more undercover accommodation than any of the other three. And, having been built in 1927, was only thirteen years old compared with Consul, then forty-four and Victoria and Empress which were 56 and 62 years old respectively.

Engine room on Freshwater.

However the Southern Railway was not very keen on this as they felt that their Freshwater was the only spare vessel in their Solent fleet available to cover accidents or other emergencies. Discussions went on. A compromise was reached. And on Thursday 7th November 1940 the Minister of War Transport decreed that Freshwater should be released by her owners for Government service but agreed that this would be on “condition that she is immediately available to evacuate hospital cases or evacuees from the Isle of Wight should invasion or other emergency render this necessary”.

The Southern Railway took the view that the “other emergency render this necessary” was a handy get out clause and that this meant that they could have their boat back if ever really necessary. So agreement was reached.

As a result Freshwater sailed to Weymouth ten days later for work to be undertaken by Cosens’ workshops to equip her for her new role. This was completed by the second week in December 1940. She ran trials in Weymouth Bay on Saturday 14th December and took up her new duties on Monday 16th.

John Megoran

John Megoran

This article was first published on 15th December 2020.