Raymond Baxter and the Dunkirk Little Ships

Excerpt from 1984 MBY article by recently deceased Tomorrow's World presenter

Raymond Baxter, who died on 15 September aged 84, was celebrated as the face of Tomorrow’s World, but he was best known in some quarters as the founder of the Association of Dunkirk Little Ships.

Raymond wrote for MBY on several occasions, and long-time readers of the magazine will no doubt recall photographs of his boat L’Orage recrossing the Channel on annual anniversaries of the wartime evacuation.

Here we reprint part of an article he wrote in 1984, describing the origins of what has become perhaps Britain’s most important nautical heritage society.

In 1963 I was looking for a boat. As a family, my wife and I, and our two children, had enjoyed enormously the unique characteristics of Ron Sams’ original amphibious caravan.

But now I wanted a more ‘boaty’ boat. After months of searching I suddenly found her – at Tom Jones’ boatyard at Windsor. She was called Nomad and I fell in love at once, but a survey confirmed my worst fears. I had neither the money nor the skill to put her right, and it almost broke my heart to say ‘no’.

A couple of weeks after this reluctant decision I was driving home from work along the Thames-side road from Laleham to Staines when, to my utter astonishment, I saw ‘my’ Nomad in mint condition at Stanley Tims’ yard across the river.
Unable to believe my eyes, I drove straight across Staines bridge to investigate.

“Yes,” said Stanley, “she is beautiful, isn’t she? Belongs to a bank manager who keeps her immaculate. She’s called L’Orage, and she served at Dunkirk, you know.”

We discovered later that L’Orage, and other boats of her small size, were used to ferry soldiers from the beach to offlying ships. I gather that L’Orage’s complement of soldiers was 32 on each outward journey, and that she worked continuously for five days.
I told him my tale about Nomad, clearly a sister ship.
“Very probably,” he replied. “L’Orage was built at Kingston in 1935 by a firm called Boats & Cars. They made wooden bodies for Aston Martins and Lagondas (cooper cleated mahogany on oak); real craftsmanship.”
I muttered something about ‘if she ever came on the market?’ – and within a month she was mine.

During the summer of 1964 we got to know L’Orage. My son, then aged 13, was able to escape from his boarding school at Reading on alternative Sundays, and we had many a breathless dash to get back in time after an afternoon on the Middle Thames.

We took her to Oxford, a prophetic trip since some yeas later she was to provide his accommodation for one term during his second year at the university: “I’m sorry I can’t invite you to my rooms. My father has taken them to Ramsgate.”

Indeed it was my son’s idea which led eventually to the formation of the Association of Dunkirk Little Ships.
We were flying over the beach on the old Silver Cities Bristol Freighter car ferry outward bound for a Continental family holiday in August 1964.

Looking down on the scene of the 1940 evacuation, my son said: “Do you realise, father, it will be 25 years next Whitsun since L’Orage was doing her thing down there? Let’s take her back!”

“Not a bad idea, old man,” I said. “I’ll see what can be done.”

The Association of Little Ships pay tribute to Raymond on their website www.adls.org 

For the BBC’s obituary of Raymond, visit http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/entertainment/3416319.stm> 


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