Amongst the many news stories in the May 2nd 1941 edition of “The War Illustrated” including “In Bombed, Blasted and Burnt London the Doctor Stands By”, “Belgrade: Tragic Capital of the Yugoslavs”, “Britain v Germany: The Strategy of War”, “Not Winter Nor the Italians Beat Our Allies” and “They’re Turning Out Spitfires by the Hundred” is a full page article on Red Funnel’s Southampton based paddle steamer Lorna Doone and how she celebrated her golden jubilee in a way far removed from her usual schedule taking trippers round the Isle of Wight or from Southampton to Bournemouth, Swanage or Weymouth.
The article continued: “On April 3 1941, the Admiralty announced that a spirited and successful action was fought between HM Paddle Mine Sweeper Lorna Doone and three Dornier 215s. The Nazis delivered machine-gun and bombing attacks from low lying clouds. Shells from the Lorna Doone’s guns were seen bursting around them. One of the Dorniers was seen to be on fire and losing height rapidly. A coastguard station in the neighbourhood of the action reported that large pieces were seen falling from another of the Dorniers. The third made good its escape in low visibility. By skilful manoeuvring the Lorna Doone avoided four large bombs dropped by the enemy and only two of the crew were wounded, while the only damage sustained by the little ship was superficial damage to the deck and deck-houses from machine-gun bullets. And that is the story of how a Victorian paddle steamer, built in 1891 for pleasure jaunts, kept her end up against the apparently overwhelming force of three modern Dornier bombers.”
After the ship had returned to port the ratings assembled in their mess and were joined by the officers. Mugs of beer were passed round and Lieut Sherrin spoke a few words to the crew and read out some of the many messages of congratulations received. In an interview he said: “Little did I think, when I sailed in her as a tripper between Bournemouth and Southampton, that one day I would ever command the old Lorna Doone. Why, I used to look up at the bridge and wonder what it was like. I know now.
What a funny old world it is. One moment everything is nice and peaceful with good humoured people enjoying lovely paddle steamer rides on warm, sunny days. Then the next it is all blasting, blowing up, machine-gunning and killing with good humoured people trying to do the right thing and make the best of an awful situation. But at least amongst all those many horrors of 1941, mugs of beer were passed round the mess after the action to cheer the crew up. Now that would be a sackable offence in 2014!
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.