Early one morning – but not quite as the sun was rising! – Tera Marique, Robert Wynn & Sons heavy lift barge slipped into Hartlepool harbour, bearing her precious cargo: RML 497, one of the last remaining Fairmile B motor launches surviving from the Second World War. It
was a landfall less dramatic than many the Rescue Motor Launch had made so often in her role rescuing downed airmen, and much less so than her service at D-Day – but the sense of relief that she’d completed a safe voyage up the East Coast was palpable. A quiet pride too as team leader Sally Weston (see earlier blog) welcomed her from the quayside. It had been a serious challenge to get such a fragile vessel safely to her new home – but Sally’s team had done it, right on time.
This was the scene as RML 497 left Southampton Docks in Terra Marique. It gives you an idea of the size of Robert Wynn and Sons’ lift and shift ship when you realize you can’t actually see any of the 34 metre length of RML 497 within Marique’s – except maybe the very tip of her funnel, if you look closely! The departure followed an anxious day or two, as scrupulous checking was completed to ensure the Fairmile B, WWII veteran and last largely intact survivor of her class, was safely berthed. And secure enough to take on the rigours of the North Sea on passage to the National Museum of the Royal Navy in Hartlepool. On a brilliantly sunny day, the sight of Terra Marique forging ahead under tow was inspiring. A can-do ship with can-do people running her.
Anyone who has seen the D-Day beach landing scenes in Stephen Spielberg’s film ‘Saving Private Ryan’ will find the images hard to forget. Featured strongly in them was the US Rangers’ assault on German gun positions atop a 100-foot cliff at Pointe du Hoc, towering over Omaha beach. Here a Fairmile ‘B’ motor launch ML 304 (picture) played a key role – and one of her veterans joined us to take a look at progress on her sister, RML 497, as she was being prepared for her voyage north to Hartlepool for the National Museum of the Royal Navy. ML 304’s D-Day task was to deploy her special masthead radar to guide the Rangers precisely to where they needed to be, before they began their highly courageous attack up the almost vertical cliff face. A good shepherd for our allies.
From – and, of course, to – Norman Fowler. Norman was a young officer at D-Day in a Fairmile B motor launch, so the restoration of RML 497 is of keen interest to him. With his son Mark, he joined us in Southampton Docks to visit once again a ship that must have been very familiar to him. Norman told us that life on board a Fairmile was much more relaxed, less “authoritarian” – as you’d expect in a warship in which everyone on board would have more than one role, and close working was essential for survival. Norman makes nothing of his 90+ years, and was up and down ladders on board the transporter barge ‘Terra Marique’ (in which 497 had been loaded) as if it was still June 1944. Mark’s occasional “Dad – hang on a bit” had absolutely zero effect!
And WHAT a barge she is!! This is ‘Terra Marique’, a semi-submersible barge into which RML 497 will be floated, so that the WWII Fairmile motor launch can be transported to Hartlepool for the National Museum of the Royal Navy. ‘Terra Marique’ is the pride and joy of Robert Wynn and Sons, specialised transportation engineers. She has stern doors that can be opened to allow cargoes to float in – float in because she can also sink down, a bit like a submarine (but not so far!), by flooding side tanks. Then, with cargo safely loaded, the stern door is closed and the water pumped out of the side tanks to raise her, and at the same time out of the cargo compartment too. She can self-propel if need be. She’s a game changer, and in regular demand. No wonder.
No doubt about it, the cradle in which RML 497, last surviving Fairmile motor launch, will travel to Hartlepool and the National Museum of the Royal Navy there, can only be described Aussie-style “a real beaut”! (See ‘Rock Your Baby’ blog.) But… now the WWII survivor must be got into it. Tricky. In charge of the operation to get 497 up to Hartlepool and then safely berthed there, is Sally Weston, Group Engineer at Robert Wynn and Sons (picture.) Here she’s helping to guide 497 safely in – a matter of both precision and muscle! Sally – always immaculate – exudes quiet confidence, calm and control as she supervises the loading of her precious charge onto the barge taking the Fairmile north. There were many unforeseeable difficulties, but she was unflappable as her delivery team overcame them, one by one.
Rob is a TV producer, reporter and camera operator with 30 years’ experience at the BBC, Channel 4 and ITN, in news, factual and documentary production. He is a four times award winner, whose awards include a coveted Royal Television Society award for his work on Channel 4 News. His association with The Maritime Foundation goes back to 1995, when he won the first Desmond Wettern Maritime Media Award for a series of reports that led to a major documentary on the loss of the bulk carrier Derbyshire.
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