Tom Tit, World War II Hero, Now for Sale

Tom Tit today
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There are thousands of boats for sale any day of the year all round the world. But it's not often that you find a boat for sale that is a part of one of the most poignant and well remembered moments of recent history.

The Battle of Dunkirk in 1940 is one of the most famous retreats of the Second World War, where hundreds of British civilians took to the sea in small boats in a desperate bid saved the lives of allied soldiers stranded on the shores of France.

Soon after the start of World War II at the end of May 1940, the British Expeditionary Force found itself pinned back to the French coast as the German army advanced south and west in an effort to force a total capitulation of the allied forces.

The British troops were ordered to make for the little port of Dunkirk in the hope that the Royal Navy could rescue an estimated 50,000 of the British and allied forces. But the British ships were too big to reach the shore, and the call went out.

Tom Tit at sea
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With the help of more than 400 little sea-boats such as the Tom Tit, the Royal Navy with RAF support rescued more than 350,000 British and allied troops.

The Tom Tit was one of those boats, and it is now moored in Datchet waiting for a new owner. Current owner John Hayes tells Henry Kelly about the boat's fascinating history.

'Tom Tit was requisitioned and taken to Ramsgate,' says John, 'but when she first went across she caught fire and was brought back again.

'She was then taken without permission from the end of Ramsgate Pier by Ron Tomlinson and his brother Alan, who had been to Dunkirk the previous day. They just thought: 'there's still some colleagues left there, let's steal a boat and go back'. Their elder brother Fred saw what they were doing and warned them that one of Tom Tit's engines had been on fire.

'But the brothers sailed on anyway, and despite a petrol leak (which they repaired en route) they reached Dunkirk safely and filled her up with soldiers. The Tom Tit carried the rescued soldiers over to the big ships 16 times until a Sergeant Major on the jetty told them not to come back because the Germans were on the pier.

'It was staggering,' says John, 'Churchill expected only to rescue about 50,000 to 60,000 and the rest of the army would have been stuck in France and taken prisoner.'

It was a daring rescue operation in which the brothers risked their lives.

'Ron Tomlinson had been across to Dunkirk in a boat called The Taggerton Towers,' says John, 'they'd lost their engine and were being towed. During that story one of the crewmen and another went across in a rowing boat to rescue some more troops.

'Only one of them came back - one was drowned in that one small incident. That was
characteristic of that whole Dunkirk episode.'

The Tom Tit has since crossed the channel to Dunkirk in 2000 and 2005.

Tom Tit at sea
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'Every five years the Association Of Dunkirk Little Ships goes across for a commemorative cruise and I've been across on two of those,' says John.

John came across the Tom Tit in 1990 when she was moored in Dover and leaking badly.

'I put her on a low loader and took her to Weymouth where I'd met an experienced boat builder who was prepared to rebuild her. She's now in first class condition.'

John is now selling the Tom Tit as he's not getting as much use out of her as he originally thought.

The new owner will not only gain a beautiful sea boat, but a valiant little ship that made her mark in Dunkirk evacuation history.

For more information about purchasing the Tom Tit, go to the Stanley and Thomas website