Hastings & St. Leonards on-line community newspaper
Hauling out the Cyril and Lilian Bishop Lifeboat

Hauling out the Cyril and Lilian Bishop lifeboat

Saving our legendary lifeboat (I)

Having played a central role in the rescuing of those at peril on the sea, now it is Hasting’s turn to save our legendary lifeboat, the ‘Cyril and Lilian Bishop’. St Mary in the Castle hosts The Ghost of Dunkirk, a film and music event supporting the campaign to restore this former Hastings lifeboat to her original state. The programme features live music from Jiggery Pokery, including a song written for the occasion, along with The Salts, RX Shanty Men, Harmony One and Now and Then. Chandra Masoliver reports.

The tale of the return of the ‘Cyril and Lilian Bishop’ lifeboat is truly inspiring – and HOT’s Chandra Masoliver had the good fortune to hear it personally from the two people most responsible for bringing this boat back home to Hastings: DeeDay White and Tush Hamilton. The events are related in their own words, starting with Dee-Day’s account.

“John (Tush) Hamilton and I both had more or less the same upbringing in Hastings Old Town, each spending days and holidays over the beach, around boats and fishermen. In-built was our love of boats and the lifestyle that went with them. My father was head launcher of the Hastings lifeboat and other family were crew, so were Tush’s. Growing up, we both went different ways, but we were still two kids at heart, never far away from each other – and here our story of the ‘The Cyril and Lilian Bishop’, Hastings lifeboat from 1931 to 1950 begins.

The Lily Bish crew members

The Lily Bish crew members

“‘The Lily Bish’, as she became known, had her keel laid in 1930; she was built by Samuel Whyte on the Isle of Wight. The cost was £4,500, paid for in full by a Mrs Bishop, on the understanding the boat would be named the ‘Cyril and Lilian Bishop’ after her first husband and herself. She donated the same amount for the Newhaven lifeboat, the ‘Cecil and Lilian Philpott’, named after herself and her second husband.

“Our new lifeboat steamed in to Hastings in April 1931 with her 35 h.p. engine, foremast lug and jib sails, and a radio receiver to replace signals and rockets. She was welcomed with two maroons (rockets) and displayed on the seafront for the day. That night she was put in the lifeboat house, which was where the boating lake is now. The old lifeboat, ‘The Charles Arkcoll’, which had no engine, was left outside to be auctioned next day; she was sold for £50.00.

“In those days there were no tractors. Horses, which were kept at Rock-a-Nore opposite the Fishermen’s Museum, and up to 100 people would haul the lifeboat out – wives and daughters too. She was the heart of our community. If there was a gale blowing from the west, since she only had a small engine, it was easier to haul her over land towards Bexhill as much as possible. Once they pulled her for four miles, as far as Bo-Peep.

Horse-drawn launch

Horse-drawn launch

“In May 1940, with the call-out to Operation Dynamo, code name for the evacuation of the Allied troops in Dunkirk, she made her way to Dover. The Hastings’ crew were sent back home and she was taken over to Dunkirk by a Royal Navy acting Petty Officer. Dunkirk is like the Camber Sands, where the tide goes out for three miles, so only small boats like cabin cruisers and lifeboats with a shallow draft of 4 – 5 foot could be used. The ‘Lily Bish’ only needed 3 foot of water. The bigger boats would wait offshore and the small ones ferried back and forth.

“One officer told his 500 men to wade out as far as possible, so as to have a better chance of being picked up. Taking only their tin hats and rifles and leaving their packs on the beach, they entered the water in line. They moved in zig-zags as this gave them a better chance not to be killed by the Germans bombing them from overhead. They followed the tide out, the water up to their chests, peeing and pooing where they stood, and when the tide turned they retreated back ashore, until they were picked up by a small boat.

“The Margate lifeboat took 90 men on her last trip, and arrived waterlogged, only kept afloat by her buoyancy bags. One lifeboat came to land somewhere in the dark, not even knowing if they were in England. It turned out to be St Mary’s Bay, and the soldiers climbed the cliffs to safety.

“Back in Dunkirk, a young fusilier, Rifleman Stevenson, seeing the rescue boats a mile out, asked permission from his officer to swim that mile and bring a boat to them. Dunkirk was in flames and there was smoke everywhere, which meant the Germans could not see to bomb accurately. At 5am, he stripped naked and swam out, but after half an hour he realised he wasn’t going to make it. Then out of the mist and smoke came a lifeboat, and that lifeboat became known as ‘The Ghost of Dunkirk.’ Later Stevenson said the only memory he brought back was of a wet blanket and the greatest admiration for the lifeboat that picked him up. Possibly that was the ‘Lily Bish’.

1930s launch

1930s launch

“We can account for almost all of this boat’s life except those four days and four nights she spent on the beaches and at sea. No one knows what happened to her during that time. When she came home a bullet was found below deck, so she must have suffered an air attack. She had a hole in her bow the size of a dustbin lid, two bullet holes in the top box, which the Navy had temporarily covered with canvas, and her masthead light and fore locker were full of sand, with deep scratches on the hull below. This shows she had hit the bottom, rolled over and come back upright. She is a self-righting boat, each man had an oar and a big toggle; if she capsized they were told to sit still, holding tight to the toggle, so when she righted herself within a minute, they should still be in their seats. But we don’t know what happened to the men on that crossing.

“The Reigate and Margate lifeboats each rescued around 850 evacuees a day. It is not known how many the ‘Lily Bish’ saved, but it is well documented that she was quickly repaired, returning to Hastings on June 5, and back at work on June 9. In all she was launched 99 times between 1931-1950, and she rescued many ships and saved many lives.

5 June 1940 the Lily Bish's return from Dunkirk

5 June 1940 the Lily Bish’s return from Dunkirk

“In 1950 the ‘Cyril and Lily Bishop’ was de-commissioned, replaced by the next lifeboat, named ‘The MTC.’ The ‘Lily Bish’ was put up for sale and a Scottish fisherman, Arra Fletcher from the Isle of Islay, bought her, re-naming her the ‘Lindy Loo’ after his daughter. When her time was up, she sank in the harbour and lay there until she was found by the Dunkirk Little Ships Restoration Trust. Because of her military history and the help she gave the army, they talked the Landing Craft Division of the Army into sending a landing craft to Scotland and in 1993 she was raised from the bottom of the sea. She was taken to Marchwood, near Portsmouth, and from there she was written about in all the lifeboat and boating magazines, asking if anyone would like to house her. From that moment no one in Hastings knew anything about her, until 2016 when I, Dee-Day White, received a phone call.”

The second part of this interview with Dee-Day White and John ‘Tush’ Hamilton will appear in the next few days, prior to the fund-raising concert.


The Ghost of Dunkirk

Contribute towards restoring the ‘Lily Bish’ and enjoy a good night out!

Friday January 20 2017 at St Mary In The Castle: 7.15pm – 10pm. (Doors open at 6.45pm.)

Tickets in advance: £8.50 from Hastings Tourist Information Centre; also from Cobblers, The Jenny Lind and The FILO, all in High Street, Hastings Old Town. Tickets on the door: £10.00. 


Posted 17:38 Wednesday, Jan 11, 2017 In: Campaigns

Please read our comment guidelines before posting on HOT

Leave a comment

Also in: Campaigns

More HOT Stuff

    HOT is run by volunteers but has overheads for hosting and web development. Support HOT!


    Advertise your business or your event on HOT for as little as £20 per month
    Find out more…


    If you like HOT and want to keep it sustainable, please Donate via PayPal, it’s easy!


    Do you want to write, proofread, edit listings or help sell advertising? then contact us

  • Subscribe to HOT