Dunkirk veteran supports Gorleston lifeboat campaign

Gorleston and great yarmouth lifeboat the louise stephens

Gorleston and great yarmouth lifeboat the louise stephens - Credit: Archant

A FORMER Mayor of Great Yarmouth has thrown his weight behind a campaign to save a historic Gorleston lifeboat and bring her back to her home moorings for restoration.

(2of2) Harry McGee .. pic for GYM 20 questions.

(2of2) Harry McGee .. pic for GYM 20 questions. - Credit: Eastern Counties Newspapers

The Louise Stephens rescued hundreds of lives during her years of service on the county's east coast and was also one of the famous little ships of Dunkirk used to rescue Allied forces from the beaches in May 1940.

And it was this chapter in her long history that sparked the interest of freeman of the borough Harry McGee, a Dunkirk veteran and one of around 347,000 troops saved by the little ships.

Mr McGee, who served as a councillor for a record 50 years from 1954 until 2004 and was twice mayor, read about the campaign to bring the Louise Stephens home in last week's Mercury and immediately gave it his backing.

The 93 year old was a member of the 59th Liverpool Regiment of the Royal Artillery.

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After his Dunkirk rescue he retrained as a military policeman, eventually becoming a sergeant and being based, among all places, at Islay in Scotland - the Hebridean island where the Louise Stephens is currently based.

Plans to restore the vessel, which became a pleasure boat and then a fishing vessel after being taken out of active service from Gorleston in 1967, have failed.

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But maritime enthusiast and qualified boatbuilder Peter Johnson, from Corton, is now leading a renewed attempt to get the lifeboat back home and fully restored, through his Rescue the Rescuer campaign.

Mr McGee has already donated £50 towards the campaign, the proceeds of a small lottery win. He was astounded by the fact he had not only been one of those rescued from Dunkirk, but had also served in Islay.

Speaking from his Bunnewell Avenue home he said: 'I was there when the little boats were there and I was in Islay. What a coincidence! The little ships saved a lot of people. We've got to get this boat back, it's important that people remember history.'

Mr McGee, originally from Liverpool, has another reason to be glad he was posted to Scotland. It was there in 1943 he met Yarmouth girl Peggy Nicholls, now 90, who was serving with the Women's Air Force in Glasgow. They married and settled in Yarmouth.

The Louise Stephens had a distinguished record in the 25 years stationed at Gorleston, saving 177 lives. She is on the register of National Historic Ships.

Mr Johnson estimates his campaign will need to raise about £25,000 to buy and transport the boat, with more needed to carry out a full restoration.

He also has a strong connection to the boat as his family served on it.

His 91 year old uncle Ron Mallion of Nile Road, Gorleston, was its joint mechanic and is the only surviving member of the crew.

Mr Mallion's son, Des, is a member of the current lifeboat crew, and his oldest son, Tony, is a former Mercury chief reporter and Radio Norfolk broadcaster.

Tony, 62, said: 'My grandfather Bertie Beavers was the coxswain of the Louise Stephens from 1949 to 1954 but the sea legs didn't make it as a far as me. But I did spend a good few Sunday mornings polishing the brass and being involved in fundraising.

'I also recall the boat making a nostalgic return to her home berth in the mid 1980s and I did some recording from her deck. That was quite nostalgic to see her again.'

A public meeting is being held today (Saturday) for anyone interested in supporting the Louise Stephens campaign. The meeting at the Pier Hotel, Gorleston starts at 10.30 am.

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