Stories & Anecdotes
In over 140 years, Red Funnel has never lost any vessel in active service, but that's not to say there hasn't been the occasional drama! Here are some of the highlights:
On 28th October 1897, whilst minding her own business alongside, 'Princess Beatrice' was struck on the bow by a ship called the 'Atrato' in Jersey. A similar fate befell sister ship, 'Her Majesty', when she was struck by the America Lines ship 'Paris'. After being repaired, 'Her Majesty' proudly continued to serve until 1940 when she was sunk at her berth during a bombing raid on Southampton Docks.
Probably one of the most unfortunate incidents befell the 'Princess of Wales'. This paddler never even entered service. Whilst on trials on the river Clyde, she was sliced clean in half by the Spanish owned 'Balmoral Castle'. Luckily all the passengers on the 'Balmoral' survived, but 3 painters regrettably lost their lives.
On commissioning, 'Lorna Doone' was Red Funnel's largest and fastest ship and became a favourite with the public. She had a distinguished military career, serving as a minesweeper in both World Wars. After the war in 1947, due to her run down state she was retired. The 'Balmoral' had a similar career, operating a twice-weekly schedule to Cherbourg before being pressed into war service. She was also returned in a run down condition and ended her life as an accommodation ship on the River Clyde before being scrapped.
The 'Duchess of Yorke' began service in 1896 and served as a minesweeper in World War I. She was handed back in 1921 and had her name changed to the 'Duchess of Cornwall'. At 2045 hrs on the 18th April 1935, the 'Duchess' set off from the Royal Pier to Cowes when she struck a submerged object near Calshot Castle. Unable to contact either Southampton or Cowes she was eventually rescued by a tug the following day - much to the relief of her weary passengers! After a long and distinguished service, her career ended during the same German bombing raid that destroyed 'Her Majesty'.
One ship destined to have a career dogged by incident was the 'Prince of Wales'. In 1896 on a foggy morning she rammed Clarence Pier in Southsea at speed. It was reported that the pier came off worse, but luckily no one was hurt. In 1903 she came into contact with a submarine at the entrance to Portsmouth Harbour. The damage to the submarine went unreported, but the 'Prince' was holed below the waterline. In 1927, whilst backing into the fairway at Cowes, the unlucky ship collided with a schooner. Some 80 passengers were aboard and the ship had to be towed back to Southampton. In 1934 she collided with sister ship, 'Princess Helena', off Cowes, somehow both ships managed to reach port. In 1935, only 11 months after the last incident, she collided and sunk the 30 foot yacht, 'The Robin', on her maiden voyage. In 1937, to the relief of many in the Board Room, the 'Prince of Wales' was retired.
The 'Gracie Fields' was a reversion to steam after the limitations of the diesel powered, 'Medina'. She became as popular as her namesake and was named by the popular entertainer in 1936. In 1939 her career almost ended when involved in a freak accident with an RAF flying boat. The plane clipped her mast, but miraculously there were no injuries despite fragments of aircraft showering the passengers. During World War II she was requisitioned by the Navy as a minesweeper and was used in the troop evacuation of Dunkirk. Having helped evacuate 280 troops from the beaches on the 28th May, she returned the following day for another 750, but was hit by a shell on her return journey. HMS 'Pangbourne' assisted and rescued all the troops, but the 'Gracie Fields' later sank.