Paddle Steamer Lorna Doone at  War


Amongst the many news stories in the May 2nd 1941 edition of The War IIlustrated 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 caption reads: "The Lorna Doone is a paddle steamer built in 1891, that plied before the war as a pleasure steamer. Right, she is seen in the days of peace. Above is the anti-aircraft gun mounted on the decks once crowded by happy passengers."


"There are still smiles on board and above some of her crew are standing on one of the paddle-boxes and making the sign of victory after their exploit. On the fore deck the Lorna Doone carried a bigger gun, right, which was also in action against enemy aircraft."

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."


"Able Seaman G Bee, the gunner who hit one of the 'planes is a Welshman nicknamed "Buzzer". He carried on his steel helmet a reminder that he would rather be called "Taff" ".


"In command of the stout little ship at the time of the Lorna Doone's victory was Temporary Lieut T W Sherrin RNVR. In peacetime he had been a passenger on board her."

"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." "


When Lieut Sherrin looked up at the bridge as a passenger in the 1930s it is likely that he would have seen Capt H J Dennis, Lorna Doone's master from 1928 to 1939, in command seen here on her bridge.


After her service as a minesweeper, Lorna Doone became one of a number of paddle driven anti-aircraft vessels before being taken out of service in 1943 and used as an accommodation ship on the Clyde. Returned to Southampton in 1947 she was thought to be in too poor condition for a re-build and so was moved to Pollock Brown's yard on the River Itchen at Southampton in October 1948 for scrapping.


Here she is in happier days entering the Western Solent off Hurst Castle sometime in the late 1930s.

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 sack-able offence in 2014!

Return to Pictures of the Month