There can be few residents of Rye (and few visitors) who have not noticed the long grey shape of a small warship moored at Strand Quay for the last few years.
The boat is actually Fairmile ‘B’ RML (Rescue Motor Launch) no. 526, built in 1942 and which saw active service during WW2. Used primarily to rescue allied airmen who had had to ditch in the Channel, she saw her fair share of action: an early event when she was operating close to the French coast is described by one of her crew, Able Seaman Joseph Smith,
“It was a beautiful calm day. Then at 1100 hours four Focke Wulf 190 appeared and all hell broke lose – one came in the bow, one astern and one from each side. One came in so low at the bow that I felt I could hit it with a potato. The aft Oerlikon gun crew received the brunt of the attack – four of the crew receiving injury – we altered course to Plymouth to land the injured . . . We were a much talked about craft!”
Later, she was one of the lead vessels guiding in the Allied invasion force to the Normandy beaches on D-day.
After the war she was sold into private hands, first in Spain and then for many years – and re-named Western Lady 4 – based at Brixham in Devon carrying tourists on trips”’round the bay”‘. After being sold for conversion into a private yacht (only partially completed) she was acquired in 2011 by her present owners, David and Sandy Brooker-Carey with the intention of restoring her to her original wartime profile.
Funded initially from their own pocket, they have now formed a charitable trust, spending the last two years raising money to complete the restoration, and the time has now come for Rye to lose its floating landmark when the vessel is taken to Plymouth for the work to be completed. She should have left in October to travel via Portsmouth (where a fundraising dinner on board HMS Victory was arranged), but the weather intervened and a new removal date has yet to be finalised.
Once restoration is completed she will start her new career sailing the seas over which she and her sister ships once fought, but this time raising funds to support the young veterans of today’s wars and also to provide training and rehabilitation for those recovering from injuries, both physical and mental.
Her departure will leave a large empty space on the Quay and she will be missed, but one can only have respect and admiration for her owners in their determination to restore the Royal Navy’s oldest fully operational warship, and the important work to which they intend to put her.
Good luck and bon voyage RML 526.
Photos:RML 526 Charitable Trust and John Minter