RNLI DUNGENESS LIFEBOAT “CHARLES COOPER HENDERSON”
A “LITTLE SHIP OF DUNKIRK ”
A VERY TOUCHING REFURBISHMENT STORY
The Dunkirk evacuation, code-named Operation Dynamo, also known as the Miracle of Dunkirk, was the successful evacuation of a total of 338,226 Allied Soldiers during World War ll from the Beaches and Harbour of Dunkirk in the North of France between 26 May and 4 June 1940.
Dungeness Lifeboat “Charles Cooper Henderson” was one of nineteen RNLI Lifeboats to have heroically and proudly served their Country and played a very important part in the miraculous evacuation. The “Charles Cooper Henderson” herself was involved in 'lifting' a total of more than 2,000 allied troops from inside Dunkirk Harbour itself, as well as from off the beaches and then ferried them out in relays to the larger vessels waiting in deeper water, in order that they should be repatriated to England.
“Charles Cooper Henderson” was actually in service at Dungeness Lifeboat Station, on the busiest part of the English Channel, in Kent, from August 1933 to August 1957 and is credited with having saved 63 lives during that period. Her distinguished service continued with the RNLI in our 'Relief Fleet' until 1974, when she was sold on to private purchasers. She has changed hands several times since.
Thanks to the passion and dedication of a small number of individuals, determined to ensure that this distinguished RNLI Lifeboat and 'Little Ship of Dunkirk' should survive as a memorial to the incredible bravery of those who crewed such boats, both large and small; to those geniuses involved in masterminding the operation; to the troops who were rescued – and of course – to all who took part but sadly, never made it back home again, it is to their credit that “Charles Cooper Henderson” survives still, today. Robert Jones and (The Late) Dennis Cox are two of these individuals.
We already have elsewhere on our website a first hand account written by the Coxswain at that time, the (late) Bob Hector (RN) and we have another, similar article, which we expect will be published very shortly.
We hope you will enjoy reading as much as we have, the following article, which was prepared by Robert Jones, who, together with his (late) and very good friend Dennis Cox, expended so much time, so much love and intense effort, in preserving and restoring this wonderful ex-RNLI Lifeboat.
At the end of the article, there are a few photos of Caresana before, during and after the restoration.
Retired Foreman Launcher
Dungeness Lifeboat Station March 2019
On the 29th November 2019, we welcomed Bob and Susan Jones on station. Bob was one of the people responsible for saving and restoring our very own ‘Little Ship of Dunkirk’, the Charles Cooper Henderson. Bob first contacted us a few years ago asking for information about the original and the replacement engines for the CCH. He has very kindly provided us with the interesting story below of how he and his late friend Dennis Cox went about restoring the boat and also provided photographs. Photograph below shows from l to r our historian John Poole, Susan Jones, Bob Jones and our Coxswain Stuart Adams. Photo credit: Judith Ann Richardson LPO (lifeboat press officer)'
As Related by Robert (Bob) Jones:
History - In the Beginning :
The “Dunkirk Little Ship”, the 'RNLB CHARLES COOPER HENDERSON'’s name was changed to 'ELIZABETH SPENCER' when she left the R.N.L.I. Service in 1974 and this was the name she had when Peter Larkin bought her. He had already seen the conversion that Tom Lawrence had carried out on 'DOWAGER' previously 'RNLB ROSA WOODD and PHYLLIS LUNN', the sister lifeboat to Charles Cooper Henderson, had liked it and copied it, although he made the saloon larger. Peter then changed her name to 'CARESANA' after a town in Italy, where his father had served in the war.
Peter sold 'CARESANA' in 1984, after which she was moved to Guernsey and then in 1990 to France, where she became a floating classroom for a language school.
In 1996, whilst still in France, she was refurbished by a boat-builder on the River Rance in Brittany, North West France, where she was re-rigged as a gaff ketch (as she had been originally). She retained her Porbeagle Diesel Engines.
'CARESANA' returned to Guernsey in 1996 and was repainted before taking part in the traditional music and boat festival in Paimpol, Brittany, that same year.
History – Up To Date :
Dennis Cox had worked on several Dunkirk Little Ships, such as 'TAHILLA' (Previously 'Skylark', an auxiliary ketch), 'HILLFRANOR' (motor yacht) and 'CHALLENGE', a steam tug, which he had also crewed, that had been restored at Southampton where she is currently moored. The last one he had in front of his house on the Thames, prior to 'CARESANA' was 'FERMAIN V', a 40' Yacht, which has subsequently been re-named back to 'SILVER QUEEN'. When this one was sold, Dennis had a 'hole in the water', waiting for another "Little Ship". The Trust found one for him in 'CARESANA'.
In early 2011, 'CARESANA' was acquired by the "Dunkirk Little Ship Restoration Trust", after spending about five years on a beach mooring at Leigh on Sea, in the Thames Estuary, going up and down with the tide and slowly filling with rainwater. It took nearly two years to persuade the owner to sell her, which he finally did and she was then moved to Smallgains Marina on Canvey Island by tug and hauled out and blocked off ashore. Here, a small team of volunteers carried out some work on the hull and drained the rainwater, which was half way up the engines, to make her seaworthy. In late October 2011 she was towed upriver to Shepperton, again by tug because the condition of the engines at that time was unknown.
At Shepperton, restoration was led by Dennis Cox with the help of Eric and Sandy Pollard, whose broad-beam was moored outside Dennis’s front garden on the Thames. Dennis constructed a great big cover to go over 'CARESANA' to keep the worst of the weather out and allow work to carry on. Following Eric’s death, Sandy carried on helping with jobs on the 'Little Ship' until she sold the broad-beam and moved into a flat, still in the area. This is when I joined Dennis to help with the restoration. Sandy also helped to raise funds by making jams and chutneys, which were sold from a table outside Dennis’s house on the towpath. She also sold various items that had been donated in order to raise funds, which she continued to do until she moved to Cowes, on the Isle of Wight.
Dennis had served in the Fleet Air Arm and also skippered tugs on the Thames and it was while he was doing this that he met his wife, as her family ran a boat yard in Brentford. My family background was also to do with the River, as my Great-grandfather owned E.C. Jones Boatbuilders at Brentford, building tugs, dumb barges and other vessels. My Grandfather designed and built a small (26ft) Bantam tug in the early 1950s, which was a push-and-pull tug, built especially for the dumb barges. My father worked with his two brothers in the yard but then left to become a River Lighterman. Boats are in my blood.
By the time I joined Dennis, the saloon had been rebuilt, as it was rotted through. At the same time, the rather bulky steering gear (drive shaft and U.V. joints) was removed, in favour of a hydraulic steering system. An old solid fuel stove had also been removed, as this was rusted through and took up quite a lot of space. The forward cabin and saloon deck head had been made from plain marine ply and Dennis had used a router to make V shaped 3” spaced grooves along the length, to look like planking, but without the leaks.
An attempt was made at starting the port engine, which was one of a pair of Ford Porbeagles fitted by the R.N.L.I. to replace the old paraffin ones in about 1963/65. (It is a credit to the way that they were fitted, the fuel pipework, shut-off valves and fuel tanks, that they lasted so long!) Anyway, the port engine actually fired up, but had to be stopped due to the exhaust fumes coming into the saloon, as the exhaust pipe was like a 'pepper pot' under the lagging. A new exhaust pipe was made, fitted and lagged. After bleeding all fuel pipework, fuel pump and injectors, another attempt was made and it burst into life. This was so encouraging, as the engines had not been started for about ten years, that we had a go at the starboard engine. This also fired up with no real problems. We did find that on this engine we had forward motion, but not astern. After removing the top of the gearbox plate and making a small adjustment, it worked, but we did find that where this engine had been sitting in water, the main driveshaft bearing seal had leaked and the main bearing was corroded and breaking up. After a long search, I found an identical one at a company in the Midlands, who had one sitting on a shelf in an overflow warehouse. We cleaned the housings and painted them before installing the new bearing, along with new seals and it worked a treat. Not bad for engines that were over fifty years old! Now that we had the engines running, my next job was to get the mechanical bilge pumps working. After heating and a lot of hammering I got them apart, cleaned, lubricated, reassembled and functioning again.
In the meantime, Dennis had been working on the interior to install a small refrigerator and had modified the galley to reduce it slightly in length and so make the heads a bit larger. The heads had a slide out stainless-steel sink unit and a small calorifier to produce hot water. (It must be remembered that this was converted so that it could be used as a family pleasure craft.) The forepeak cabin, dinette, main saloon and aft cabin (the shed!) seat cushions were all re-covered by a local company, in new materials. When the weather was favourable, the roof was coated in a resin and painted R.N.L.I. Orange and the outside of the saloon was painted white. Once the outside was protected from the weather, the cover was removed, which allowed the tabernacle (cabin) to be replaced and also a steaming mast that Dennis had made, to be fitted. The navigation lights (that we believe were the originals) were re-installed.
All this work was carried out whilst we were waiting for 'CARESANA' to be slipped and at one point we did have her craned out at Shepperton Marina for a quick hull survey to be done. She was a bit soft around the prop tunnels and the exhaust ports, but nothing too serious to worry about.
It was whilst I was away over Christmas of 2016 that I received a phone call from Dennis’s son to say that Dennis had been rushed into hospital with a suspected heart attack. He was then transferred to St. Georges Hospital in Tooting, but after a few days Dennis unfortunately suffered another attack and died. It came as a great shock to everyone, especially me, as we really got on well and bounced off each other while working.
I was asked by the Dunkirk Little Ships Restoration Trust Chairman to take 'CARESANA' up to the Beale Park Boat & Outdoor Show in June 2017. Dennis’s son came with me to help crew her up there, but did not stay for the show. It was whilst we were at the show, that a couple who were looking for another boat saw 'CARESANA' on the Friday, went home and talked about buying her and then returned on the Saturday and agreed a figure and bought her.
'CARESANA' attended one more function before I had to ‘let go‘ and that was at the request of Prince Philip and Prince Michael of Kent, to attend a garden party for the “Dunkirk Little Ships”, at Windsor Castle Grounds – Home Park - where, incidentally, these are the only ships that are allowed to moor on the Royal Estate.
On the return from the garden party, 'CARESANA' was dropped off in a boat yard on the Thames, on behalf of the new owners. She has since been completely redesigned and has now been re-named back to 'CHARLES COOPER HENDERSON'.
Robert (Bob) Jones