Historic boat used in Dunkirk evacuation destroyed in devastating Thames boatyard fire

A huge blaze that ripped through a Thames boatyard has destroyed a historic ship used to rescue troops during the evacuation of Dunkirk.

The loss of the boat ‘Lady Gay’ has been called ‘nothing short of tragedy’ by devastated owners, My London reports.

The vessel took part in the rescue of troops off the beaches of Dunkirk decades ago and had just been restored ready for the new season afloat.

Its owners have said the loss after it was gutted by fire is a huge blow to the history of the nation.

The enormous inferno engulfed two boatyards on Platt’s Eyot, an island on the River Thames in Hampton, Richmond upon Thames., at about 5pm on Monday.

Fifteen fire engines and about 100 firefighters fought the blaze before bringing it under control by about 8.30pm.

But by then the fire had torn through a historic boatyard, destroying two Grade II listed buildings as well as one of the few remaining ‘Dunkirk Little Ships.’

Lady Gay, which took part in the rescue of troops off the beaches of Dunkirk in 1940, was on the slipway of Otter Marine having just had some restoration work completed to get her ready for the coming season afloat.

Ian C Gilbert, Veterans Cruise Organiser at the Association of Dunkirk Little Ships said: “I spoke to the owner this evening and he is absolutely devastated. These boats are totally irreplaceable.

“Once they are lost, they are lost forever and a piece of our history is also lost.

“Lady Gay was built in 1934 for Lord Alfred Dunhill, the chairman of the tobacco company. Lady Gay has been avidly supported by the Association of Dunkirk Little Ships for many years.

“Her loss is nothing short of tragedy for her dedicated owners and for history of this nation.”

The Dunkirk evacuation was a key event for the Allies during the Second World War, that boosted morale in the early wartime years and created the idea of ‘Dunkirk spirit.’

The mass evacuation in the summer of 1940 – codenamed Dynamo – saw 338,000 troops rescued after the British Admiralty appealed to small boat owners to join in the rescue bid.

It began on 26 May and the Royal Air Force sent aircraft to protect the effort, that saw more than 800 vessels of all shapes and sizes help transport troops across the English Channel, with the last evacuated on 3 June.

Two other Little Ships involved in the evacuation – Mary Irene and Elvin – were also moored at Platts Eyot but were moved to safety before the flames could reach them.

A spokesperson for the London Fire Brigade said: “Fifteen fire engines and around 100 firefighters were called to a fire at two industrial units on Platt’s Eyot island in Richmond upon Thames.

“Firefighters tackled a fire at two single-storey industrial units on the island, which were completely destroyed by the fire. The only access on to the island was via a footbridge, therefore firefighters have carried all of their equipment to the scene by hand.

“A number of gas cylinders were involved in the fire, they were cooled and removed by firefighters as some cylinders can explode when exposed to heat.

“Some of the nearby boats have been moved from the area as a precaution.

“One man has been treated at the scene for smoke inhalation by London Ambulance Service crews.

“The Brigade’s Control Officers received 72 calls about the fire.

“Fire crews will remain at the scene throughout the evening to dampen down the area.”

Officials said crews from Twickenham, Kingston, Feltham, Heston, Richmond and other neighbouring fire stations all attended and that the cause of the fire is to be investigated.