Whelker Bessie is Dunkirk Little Ship!


Bessie under way / photograph courtesy of The Cox family


Following the successful restoration of their first boat - the much-loved Dunkirk Little Ship and former Wells lifeboat Lucy Lavers - Rescue Wooden Boats is now working on Bessie.  Bessie, a former whelker built in 1935 who worked out of Wells harbour, came to the charity in 2011 with rumours of her own Dunkirk history. 

After months of thorough detective work, Rescue Wooden Boats uncovered several conclusive pieces of evidence which proved that Bessie played her own intriguing role in Operation Dynamo.  In particular, local residents Geraldine Green and Caroline Cox helped provide invaluable family records to support this research - Bessie having been originally commissioned by, and built for, their relative Billy Cox.   

Bessie’s Dunkirk story is thrilling.  Her skipper, Billy Cox, volunteered to take her as part of a flotilla of four boats on a secret mission to cross the Channel and collect a group of eminent men.  The party was rumoured to include the British Ambassador to Belgium, who had been taken prisoner by the Germans.  Bessie waited in a vulnerable position off the French coast as instructed, for a signal which never came.  With her flotilla – all of which were skippered and crewed by the fishermen who owned the boats – she then negotiated the risky return voyage, avoiding capture and attack.  

Early in 2018, Bessie’s official status as a Dunkirk Little Ship was confirmed by the Association of Dunkirk Little Ships and Bessie can now take her place among this illustrious company of historic craft.  Bessie’s restoration – using skills and materials identical to those in her building, and preserving as much of the original as possible – is a major undertaking in time and money.  Rescue Wooden Boats is seeking ‘Bessie Benefactors’ to support this work.  Click here to join the crew www.rescuewoodenboats.com/get-involved/become-a-bessie-benefactor!

For more fascinating information about Bessie and our project to restore her back to a life on the water, see: http://www.rescuewoodenboats.com/our-fishing-boats/whelkers.