Woodbridge naval veteran’s expertise aids boat renovation

Don Tucker with First Sea Lord Admiral Sir George Zambellas KCB DSC ADC (left); Captain Tristan Stew

Don Tucker with First Sea Lord Admiral Sir George Zambellas KCB DSC ADC (left); Captain Tristan Stewart Royal Marines, Flat Lieutenant to First Sea Lord and Chief of Naval Staff (right); and Captain Trevor Gulley ADC MSc CEng CMarEng FIMMarEST MCGI Royal Nav, Commanding Officer HMS Sultan - Credit: Archant

A Suffolk veteran’s detailed recollection of his naval years has proven key to restoring a ship like the one on which he sailed during the war.

Don Tucker (left) on board a Fairmile boat

Don Tucker (left) on board a Fairmile boat - Credit: Archant

Don Tucker would never have contemplated coming face-to-face with an admiral when serving as a member of the Coastal Forces during the Second World War.

So it was with some apprehension that he led First Sea Lord, Admiral Sir George Zambellas, around the Motor Launch Fairmile B – RML 526 in Rye, East Sussex.

The boat will be the largest seaworthy Second World War navy vessel when fully restored to her 1942 condition. But the team behind the project needed help with a number of details and were able to call on former architect Mr Tucker for a first-hand description and accurate drawings.

Mr Tucker, from Woodbridge, joined the Coastal Forces at 18 as able seaman on board sister ship ML 194. At 20 he became coxswain and was on the ML 194 when it was the leading boat on D-Day at Omaha Beach. The boat was also active at Dieppe and travelled 9,000 miles to Singapore for the surrender of the Japanese.

The small wooden boats were loaded with torpedoes and high octane petrol. They often sailed into enemy waters at night, becoming known as the “Spitfires of the Seas”.

Mr Tucker, who is an honorary life member of Woodbridge Cruising Club and trustee of Woodbridge Art Club, and in 2002 won the Potter Cup for making an outstanding contribution to Woodbridge, said: “Each boat was completely prefabricated. All the parts were sent to Brentford Dock and loaded onto lorries to be sent to yards along the coast. They were only built to only last about 10 years.

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“On board we had people from all walks of life, but we all pulled together.”

Sandy Brooker-Carey, who with husband David has organised and funded restoration of 526, said: “Without Don’s input we would have had a huge piece of the jigsaw missing in understanding the day to day functions of these little ships, in particular the true camaraderie that existed between officers and crew.”