“If you see a rugged craft called ‘Trimilia’ in your travels, pause for a moment and drink in the fact that you are looking at one of the bulwarks of history.”
An extract from an article by the Prudential Insurance Company when her owner at the time, a certain Group Captain Sidney Swain was responsible for the life assurance affairs of the R.A.F. Benevolent Fund, underwritten of course by the Prudential.
Built in 1925, ‘Trimilia’, or ‘Prudential’ as she was originally named, having been paid for by The Prudential Assurance Co., saw service with the R.N.L.I. at Ramsgate for 28 years, saving 330 lives and, manned by her own volunteer crew, had a major role to play in the British Expeditionary Force evacuation from Dunkirk in 1940.
She has since been in the hands of five different private owners, undergone a few changes, but continues to fly her Dunkirk Little Ships Flag and more recently her National Historic Fleet Vessel House Flag and Defaced Red Ensign, all with enormous pride.
A little of her history
The Prototype of a New Class
In June 1924 the Prudential Assurance Company of London presented the Royal National Life-boat Institution with a cheque for £2,000. This was the first instalment of a sum of approximately £10,000 which the company presented to the R.N.L.I as a gift to mark their Centenary. From this gift a motor life-boat was to be built and named the ‘Prudential’ in accordance with the Company’s wishes.
Life-boat No. 697 was the resulting boat and she was unique in many ways, being the prototype of a new class specifically intended for operating in estuaries. As she was allocated to the Ramsgate station, being the prototype, the class became known as the ‘Ramsgate’ class, although it is thought that there were only two others built of this type.
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Trimilia at Dunkirk
Operation Dynamo had commenced and at 1.15pm on Thursday 30th May 1940 the call was made for volunteers to man the ‘Prudential’ and go to the beaches of Dunkirk to save as many of the trapped troops of the British Expeditionary Force as possible. The Ramsgate crew volunteered to a man and after being issued with tin hats and respirators, the coxswain, Howard Knight, steered the ‘Prudential’, the first RNLI vessel respond, out of harbour and set a course for the hell that was Dunkirk. The life-boat was loaded with four coils of warp and fresh water for the rescued troops. One of the very first vessels to set out for Dunkirk, she took in tow eight boats, mostly wherries, which were manned by a total of eighteen naval men.
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In November 1953, O.N. 697 ‘Prudential’ was sold out of service of the RNLI for £1000 to City of London Chief Architect F.H.W. Haywood at R.J. Prior & Son’s Boatyard in Burnham on Crouch. Conversion commenced at the boatyard and this included the raising of her gunwales by roughly ten inches. A new deck and a coach roof, both in teak to match her hull, and the beginnings of a wheelhouse, were added. A new Russell Newbery engine and a Self Changing Gears gearbox were purchased and although several attempts were made to mount and install the engine to Mr Haywoods satisfaction, final installation did not take place until the boat was moved in 1962 to the yard of Frank Knights in Woodbridge. Here, the meticulous Mr Haywood continued the conversion, but unfortunately he died before the completion of his lengthy project.
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Today – Gallery
After nearly 50 years in Woodbridge, Suffolk, ‘Trimilia’ has now moved to the main marina in the historic Ipswich dock. Now, with no tidal constraints, David and Moira Jay – owners since 2005, will find it much easier to take ‘Trimilia’ out for a run. They have certainly discovered that owning an historic boat is more costly and time consuming than anticipated but have worked tirelessly to turn their pride and joy into a very comfortable, well equipped vessel.
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