The First Sea Lord Admiral Sir George Zambellas visited Rye recently to review the Fairmile RML 526, a unique WW2 Royal Navy warship of which he is Senior Patron.
The Fairmile, moored at Rye’s Strand Quay is part of an ongoing restoration project.
Fairmile boats, which are largely constructed of wood, took part in numerous hazardous amphibious operations – notably the 1942 St Nazaire raid where two posthumous Victoria Crosses were won by Royal Navy and Royal Marine servicemen who usually volunteered to crew the fragile vessels.
The First Admiral was joined by Captain Trevor Gulley , Commanding Officer of HMS Sultan, The Royal Navy’s engineering training division and Captain Tristan Stewart, Royal Marines, representing the Royal Marine Commandos who served on these ships.
The First Sea Lord was shown round the ship by Fairmile B Coastal Forces veteran Don Tucker.
He said: “I was privileged to meet Don Tucker veteran of Coastal Forces who served on 526’s sister ship, ML 194, at D Day, Dieppe and in the Far East. He said to me “ I am 89 years old and my wartime service in Coastal Forces were the most momentous and significant period of my life. I love this ship and hope to see her fully restored and back at sea”
526 deserves to be restored, to be brought back to life, not as a static museum exhibit but to full seagoing status.”
Captain Gulley commented on the ships originality and condition – “she is quite remarkable for a 70 year old wooden warship who has seen considerable active service”.
RML 526’s historical and technical importance has been underlined in June this year when she became only the fourth ship to be awarded Affiliate Status by the National Museum of the Royal Navy, Portsmouth who are working closely with the project to preserve what is now not only the last surviving and authentic example of nearly 900 built.
She is the largest seagoing RN ship of WW2 indistinguishable from the original.
The First Admiral went on to say: “This is a fantastic project. Fully restored to her exact wartime standard she will be a historic seagoing warship and will become a fitting operational memorial commemorating to the thousands of courageous young volunteers who fought against sometimes overwhelming odds on these amazing small warships”.
The long term objective of returning her to public ownership through Royal Naval Museum ownership on her 100th birthday. Funding is being sought for the project.