Legendary lifeboat is coming home

Lillian Bishop 3 SUS-160806-091201001
Lillian Bishop 3 SUS-160806-091201001

Local heroes Dee-Day White and Tush Hamilton are on the verge of bringing a lost lifeboat back to Hastings again.

It follows their restoration of the Priscilla MacBean lifeboat, which was discovered as a rotting hulk in Eastbourne and is now on permanent show in the Old Town.

Lillian Bishop 2 SUS-160806-090824001

Lillian Bishop 2 SUS-160806-090824001

Now they are set to bring home a former Hastings lifeboat which earned the legend ‘The Ghost of Dunkirk’

The Cyril and Lilian Bishop lifeboat, which saved 34 lives in Hastings during the 1930’s, spent four days and four nights rescuing British and French soldiers from the beaches during the evacuation of Dunkirk in World War 2.

She disappeared from history for a while but a phone call from a Belgian resident alerted Dee-Day and Tush to her resting place in a French boatyard and they set about making plans for her return to Hastings.

Dee-Day explains: “Mrs Lilian Philpott, a rich London Woman agreed to finance two new lifeboats at a cost of £4,500 each on condition that one was named the ‘Cyril and Lilian Bishop’ after herself and her first husband.

Lillian Bishop 1 SUS-160806-090809001

Lillian Bishop 1 SUS-160806-090809001

“They were to be allocated to Hastings - to replace the Charles Arkoll II - and Newhaven. The keel of the new Hastings Motor lifeboat was laid at Cowes on June 27th 1930 but, sadly, Mrs Philpott died the same week that the Cyril and Lilian Bishop received her completion order.

“With her new 35hp petrol engine the new boat, Hastings’ first motor lifeboat was the same size as the Charles Arkoll II but more strongly built and twice as heavy as the old boat.

“The new boat finally arrived in Hastings from the boat builders, J Samuel White & Co of Cowes, Isle of Wight in April 1931, crewed by Will Curtis, Frank Martin, Fred Doughty and now the boat had an engine she needed a mechanic, Bill Hilder. Another innovation after a series of tests was for her to be fitted with a radio receiver for communication which replaced visual signals and rockets.

“With no tractor it meant more helpers on the shore, sometimes even horses were used. The Charles Arkoll II was put up for auction outside the old Victorian Lifeboat House and was finally sold for the grand sum of £50.

“She is best known and earned her nickname ‘The Ghost of Dunkirk when in late May 1940 the Dunkirk evacuation needed shallow draught vessels to make their way to Dover and the RNLI was asked to send as many lifeboats as possible and coxswain George Moon quickly called a crew together consisting of Will Martin, Bodger Barton, Jumbo White, Bill Hilder and finally Freddie Button.

“On arrival at Dover George Moon tells us that all the lifeboats were commandeered by the Royal Navy and he and the rest of the crew travelled back to Hastings by train.

“It was said that she appeared like a ghost amongst the smoke and mist during the evacuations.

After doing her duty at Dunkirk the boat was hosed out to remove the vast quantities of sand from her decks and a hole was found in her bow, sand in her fore locker and her mast head light was also full of sand. Two bullet holes were also found.

“It is well-documented that the Ramsgate and Margate lifeboats each rescued on average 850 evacuees a day so the Cyril & Lilian Bishop can only be comparable with the same quantities of evacuees.

“The story of the Cyril and Lilian Bishop in her RNLI mode continued until 1950 when the new Hastings Lifeboat, the MTC arrived in Hastings, then, like a ghost, the boat disappeared into obscurity until 2015, when we received the call.

“Plans are now well underway to finish her restoration and display her in Hastings Old Town.”