How a wartime vow saved Norfolk’s Wherry Albion

PUBLISHED: 16:44 04 January 2020 | UPDATED: 16:56 04 January 2020

The wherry Albion makes her way under sail along the River Yare near Cantley. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

The wherry Albion makes her way under sail along the River Yare near Cantley. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

A book hailed as the definitive story of Norfolk wherries is once again available

Roy Clark pictured in 1952  Picture: ArchantRoy Clark pictured in 1952 Picture: Archant

A wartime vow made by a D-Day hero saved Norfolk's magnificent Wherry Albion.

As soldiers fought their way up the Normandy beaches in June 1944, Roy Clark battled through choppy waters, under attacked from Nazi soldiers on shore and aircraft overhead.

Amid the terror and turmoil Roy Clark dreamed of what he might do for his home county if he survived. And it was here, ferrying troops and tanks into battle, that he began to plan how he could rescue and restore a Norfolk wherry, and perhaps even a windmill too.

Roy had signed up for active duty in 1939, starting out as a aerial reconnaissance photographer over Nazi-occupied Europe. and then transferring to the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve.

Black-Sailed Traders by Roy ClarkBlack-Sailed Traders by Roy Clark

His son, Rod, said: "He vowed, 'If I get out of this mess alive I will do something meaningful.'"

Roy did survive, and eventually returned home to his wife Peggy, and young children, Rod and Linda.

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He immediately set about fulfilling the promise he had made on Arromanches Beach. He set up a bookshop in historic Augustine Steward House in Tombland - and began persuading people to help him preserve a Norfolk wherry. At the end of the war not a single sailing wherry remained of the 300 which had once filled Norfolk and Suffolk waterways, although a few were still in use as barges towed by steam tugs.

Henry Gowman, of Poringland, near Norwich, a fellow Royal Navy veteran and a volunteer wherry skipper with the Norfolk Wherry Trust, researched Roy's story and said: "He was a man interested in everything and everyone. By 1949 he had made firm friends with Lady Mayhew (nee Colman) and Ted Ellis, the famous naturalist, amongst others. He convinced a small band of Norfolk worthies that saving a wherry was an important job which needed doing urgently."

A wherry called Plane was picked as the most watertight of the wherries moored at Colman's Carrow Works and in 1949 the Norfolk Wherry Trust was launched. Just months later the wherry, now with her original name, Albion, set sail.

"This was a spectacular achievement," said Henry.

Roy's book The Black Sailed Trader, first published in 1961 has been called "the definitive book on the Norfolk Wherry." His son and daughter have now republished it, with all profits to go towards funding the continued maintenance of the 122-year-old Wherry Albion. It is on the National Historic Ships Register and visitors can enjoy day cruises aboard, between the end of May and mid September 2020, or visit for free at regular open days around the Broads from May 25. (Full details at

Alongside launching the Norfolk Wherry Trust and restoring Albion, Roy also fulfilled the second part of his D-Day vow, renovating Red Mill opposite the Berney Arms.

Rod remembers him as a hugely talented man, making television and radio documentaries as well as running the family book shop. Rod grew up to be a musician, playing with the Moody Blues and managed by Brian Epstein, but continues the family maritime tradition, living on a boat at Oulton Broad.

The republished Black Sailed Trader, by Roy Clark, is available from Norfolk Wherry Trust and bookshops including City Bookshop, Davey Place, Norwich. Profits will help fund the continued maintenance of Albion.

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