Between the 27 May and 4 June 1940, 338,226 British and allied soldiers were evacuated from the beaches and harbour of Dunkirk. Codenamed ‘Operation Dynamo’, the evacuation was the mastermind of Admiral Sir Bertram Ramsay. ‘The Ferryman’, a patriotic poem written by Sir Alan Patrick Herbert, celebrated the achievements of Admiral Sir Bertram Ramsay and the captains of an armada of privately owned yachts, motor launches, lifeboats, paddle steamers, barges, houseboats and fishing smacks, now known as the ‘Little Ships of Dunkirk’, who, at the government’s request, took part in the evacuation.
I made a ferry through the foam—
Dunkirk and Deal—Dieppe and Dover:
I brought the flower of Britain home
And took the fruits of freedom over.
One of these ‘little ships’ was a 26ft wooden motor yacht called Firefly, now lovingly cared for by Mark and Penny Webb, but in May 1940 under the charge of Commander Bowen. Firefly had been built in 1923 by Cole & Wiggins Ltd. of Leigh-on-Sea, Essex, and from 1923 to 1929 she was owned by Captain Philip Stuart Jackson-Taylor (1896-1945). Philip and his younger brother, John Curzon Jackson-Taylor (1898-1918), both attended Sherborne School where they were members of The Green. Tragically, John died in 1918, aged just 19, fighting with the King’s Shropshire Light Infantry at Cambrai, France.
At the outbreak of the First World War, Philip obtained a commission in the Herefordshire Regiment and, having survived Gallipoli, joined the Royal Flying Corps in 1916 and was given a permanent commission in 1919. In 1918, Philip had married Joyce Webster and a daughter Pamela was born the following year. Philip obviously bought Firefly with his new family in mind. In 1925, Firefly featured in The Motor Boat magazine under the title ‘Sea Cruising in Small Craft’. Described as ‘a small boat which has proved herself very capable of making extended trips in varying weather’, the article includes a photograph of Philip and his family on board Firefly in Shoreham harbour in Sussex.
The article lists the voyages undertaken by Philip in Firefly, including his participation in the London to Cowes race (non-stop in 26 hours). Special mention is also made of that fact that even under rough conditions in the English Channel, Firefly ‘has shown her ability to stand up to it and remain absolutely tight’. Little could Philip have realised that just 15 years later Firefly would be enduring even worse conditions in the English Channel when, with hundreds of other ‘Little Ships’, she set sail for Dunkirk.
Amazingly, one Dunkirk veteran, Corporal Denis Kinnell (1918-2008), vividly recalled over 50 years later being rescued from Dunkirk by Commander Bowen and Firefly. Having spent two days on the beach at Dunkirk, Corporal Kinnell swam out to Firefly with three or four other soldiers and a seriously wounded casualty. Commander Bowen then ferried the men to HMS Anthony which took them to safety in Dover.
Following the evacuation of Dunkirk, Prime Minister Winston Churchill delivered his now famous ‘We shall fight on the beaches’ speech to the House of Commons in which he hailed the evacuation as a ‘miracle of deliverance’.
Unfortunately, Philip did not survive the war and on 1 February 1945, while flying to the Yalta Conference as a representative of the Air Ministry, he was killed in an air crash off Lampedusa, one of the Pelagie Islands in the Mediterranean. He was buried at Imtarfa Military Cemetery in Malta.
Both Philip and his brother John are remembered on the Sherborne School War Memorial, together with the five Shirburnians who died at Dunkirk.
We will remember them.
With many thanks to Mark Webb for providing the information and photographs of Firefly.
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Posted 21 July 2017 by Sherborne School Archives.