Heroic lifeboat should return home to Gorleston, says owner

PUBLISHED: 06:30 21 September 2012

Dunkirk Little Ship the Louise Stephens, which faces an uncertain future.

Dunkirk Little Ship the Louise Stephens, which faces an uncertain future.


A heroic Great Yarmouth and Gorleston lifeboat that saved hundreds of lives and was involved in one of the most famous battles in modern history, is facing an uncertain future.

The owner of the 46ft Louise Stephens boat, John Parr from Caldy, near Liverpool, is urgently seeking a solution to a problem which has seen the boat fail to return to Norfolk or find a home in a boating museum as originally planned.

The former Gorleston and Great Yarmouth lifeboat is a veteran of the battle of Dunkirk, making two trips to rescue stricken and stranded soldiers in May and June 1940 and is recorded as having saved a further 177 lives in her time on the East Coast.

The Mercury reported last year how Mr Parr and the Hoylake Lifeboat Museum in Wirral - which Mr Parr was chairman of - had stepped in to save the boat from being scutled after years of use as a fishing boat in Islay, Western Scotland.

She was to become a permanent exhibit in the museum before it fell on hard times.

Mr Parr has, to date, spent £10,000 on the boat, including repairs, after the hardy craft bore the brunt of the recent hurricane winds which ripped through Islay in Sotland, where she is moored.

The passionate boatman would love nothing more than to see it back to where she belongs. But is forced - due to his own financial constraints - to seek a buyer for the Louise Stephens.

Mr Parr said: “The place the lifeboat should be is Norfolk. She is a famous lifeboat and part of the history of Yarmouth and Gorlston.

“My love is for the lifeboat and I would love to see her returned to Yarmouth, I would be immensely proud.

“I know a number of people were sad last year that she would not be returning to Yarmouth even though they were pleased I was saving her. Maybe we should revisit the opportunity?”

He added that while he cannot afford to give the lifeboat away he would offer as much help and guidance as possible in aiding a buyer in transporting and housing the boat in her home county.

The Louise Stephens is one of the little ships of Dunkirk or the Dunkirk Little Ships, one of close to 1,000 private boats that sailed from Ramsgate in England to Dunkirk in France as part of Operation Dynamo, the rescue of more than 338,000 British and French soldiers who were trapped on the beaches at Dunkirk during the second world war.

“She has a record that few lifeboats come near to,” added Mr Parr.

After the recent hurricane winds that hit Islay - the southernmost island of the Inner Hebrides - Mr Parr has replaced parts, fixed the engines, repaired the steering and stripped the hull and decks for repainting, decking her out in her original RNLI red, white and blue livery.

She is named after an opera singer, Louise Stephens, who married into the Stephens Ink family.

Her husband Michael Stephens died in 1938, childless.

Louise had the lifeboat built and named after her late husband and then repeated the generous gesture with a second lifeboat which carried her own name.

The Louise Stephens is included in the National Register of Historic Vessels and is one of just 19 lifeboats among the 700 private vessels which took part in the Dunkirk evacuation of 1940.

She went out of service as a lifeboat in 1974, and then became a fishing vessel called the Tyne Star.

The Louise Stephens is worth about £15,000, but Mr Parr is happy to discuss terms and do whatever he can to see her go to a good home.

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