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Porthole

PUBLISHED: 13:59 21 February 2008 | UPDATED: 10:29 03 July 2010

ON THE MOVE: The Mercury office is moving soon into this King Street terrace of shops, pictured here in 1957 when Matthes dominated it

ON THE MOVE: The Mercury office is moving soon into this King Street terrace of shops, pictured here in 1957 when Matthes dominated it

ONLY once in the several decades that I have been writing this column has there been an occasion when I was well aware that it would create deep disappointment to somebody featured in it.

ONLY once in the several decades that I have been writing this column has there been an occasion when I was well aware that it would create deep disappointment to somebody featured in it. So conscious was I of its potential effect that in the Mercury I likened it to “an act of treachery”, particularly as it centred around a momentous event in our nation's history.

That column - headlined “Here's a tale of the 'heroine' that never was” - was brought back to my mind last month with the death of 90-year-old Bob Tuttle whom I had known for many years when we sat almost daily in our allotted places in the old courtroom in Yarmouth Town Hall, he as clerk to the magistrates while I was on the press reporters' bench.

In 1990, the golden anniversary of the evacuation of 381,000 Allied troops under enemy attack from the beaches of Dunkirk by a hastily assembled fleet of small boats, one Porthole was dedicated to the return of many of the surviving craft to the French port to commemorate that historic rescue.

It was the third time the so-called Operation Dynamo had been marked by participants sailing across the Channel for the celebratory gathering, the others being in 1965 and 1975. Both times the Cantley-built 39ft Latona, of which Mr Tuttle was a co- owner from the mid-Sixties, took part by official invitation, the organisers positive that she “was one of the brave fleet of little ships which set out for the Dunkirk beaches in the tense days of 1940”.

In 1965 delighted Bob Tuttle and his colleagues took with them Mercury reporter Mike Farman to record their first-time experience. According to Mr Tuttle, the occasion was “memorable - we had a marvellous time”. A “Dunkirk 1940” plaque presented to the Latona was fixed to her wheelhouse.

Then the Association of Dunkirk Little Ships was created, and Bob enrolled Latona. When Yarmouthian Michael Moore became her next owner, he sailed her to the 35th anniversary return in 1975 before she was sold again, this time heading for Yorkshire.

To check whether or not the Latona would sail to Dunkirk a fourth time in 1990, I spoke to the association but learned that “the 30ft Latona” would be an absentee because she was out of the water in Plymouth undergoing major renovation. And in response to my further questioning, the association explained: “There are two Latonas, but she (the ex-Yarmouth one) is not a Dunkirk little ship although she went on two returns.

“About 1976 documents were discovered that proved she didn't go to Dunkirk.” As the original evacuation fleet was brought together in only 11 days in two Channel ports, and 20 different lists were compiled, it was easy to see how there was some confusion, he added.

I drove out to Bob's Fritton home to break the disappointing news. It caused him to feel “a little bit low”, he admitted, although insisting: “Memories of that visit will never alter.” What made him particularly proud was Latona leading the fleet into Dunkirk harbour in 1965.

Where is this Latona now, and in what state? I know not.

One Dunkirk veteran still keeping busy is MTB102 that at one time was berthed at Brundall and used by local Scouts, but is now run by a trust to keep her going while money can be raised for her upkeep. Still fully seaworthy, and has a permanent berth in Lowestoft.

This ex-Royal Navy high-speed hit-and-run warship has been back to Dunkirk on reunions, and every summer now sails the east and south coasts attending maritime events to raise the much-needed funds to keep her active. Trust spokesman Richard Basey reports: “Every September we bring her to Great Yarmouth for the Maritime Festival, usually her last event of the year, and I expect she will be there again this September.”

Next, a Peggotty Poser. What have a national broadsheet newspaper and Harry Ramsden's fish restaurant on our Golden Mile done that would irk a dyed-in-the-wool Yarmouthian? The answer: referring to “herring trawlers” instead of drifters.

The newspaper published a story recently about Yarmouth having only one remaining fishing boat (Eventide, crewed by brothers Richard and Jason Clarke) whereas it used to have a “1000-strong fleet, once the biggest in the world”. Unfortunately the caption to a picture of drifters in the harbour in 1955 called them “trawlers” although it must be admitted that the number of pedantic purists still around are dwindling as fast as Yarmouth's fishing fleet did.

As for Harry Ramsden's, Mrs Peggotty and I have enjoyed two meals there recently (subsidised by a two-for-one voucher in the Mercury) but upstairs a picture on the wall of a Scottish drifter made a similar trawler boob. It did nothing to spoil the delicious platefuls, however.

And while in harbour mode, I noticed a small tug berthed on Bollard Quay recently with a website announced on her side: www.porthol.com.pl - looked like one designed for this column!

In November I mentioned that I had never heard of physician and writer Dr Thomas Girdlestone (1758-1822), listed in an on-line encyclopaedia as one of Yarmouth's three most notable residents of yesteryear. I have just come across a century-old book on that mentions nine of its “most distinguished” citizens...but excludes Girdlestone.

I was surprised that both lists excluded Captain George Manby about whom I wrote recently to acknowledge 200 years since he invented in Yarmouth the forerunner of the breeches buoy that helped to save countless thousands of shipwrecked seafarers' lives; his name lives on as roads in Yarmouth and Gorleston. Neither was born hereabouts.

The latest list to capture my attention comprises John Perebourn, burgess and “noted sea captain”; Sir John Fastolff, who built Caister Castle after “a brilliant career in the service of the Crown”; Henry Manship, a corporation employee who wrote a history of Yarmouth; Nicholas Felton, born in the town, became Bishop of Ely in 1617; Sir William Gooch, another local lad who was Lieutenant Governor of Virginia in 1727; Joseph Ames, also a son of Yarmouth who was secretary of the national Society of Antiquarians and compiled a register of all books printed in England between 1474 and 1600; John Ames, celebrated antiquary and author of valuable works on heraldry; Dawson Turner (1775-1858), antiquary and botanist; and Caister-born prison reformer Sarah Martin.

All that was long before the era of the celebrity cult, of course...

Finally, on a different tack, recently I telephoned insurance specialist Saga to inquire about home and contents cover for Peggotty's Hut in Gorleston. As usual with this type of call, music played while I waited to be connected to an operative - but this was neither Mozart nor soothing strings.

Instead, I heard two vocals. First was “I Don't Want to set the World on Fire”, perhaps chosen to suit the home insurance theme. It was followed by the Wurzels' “Oi've got a brand new combine harvester” that I felt should have been played to prospective vehicle or agricultural clients.

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