www.hastingsonlinetimes.co.uk     Hastings & St. Leonards on-line community newspaper
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Bill Hilder’s model of the ‘Lily Bish’, on display at The Fishermen’s Museum in the Old Town.

Saving our legendary lifeboat II

This is the second part of HOT’s Chandra Masoliver‘s interview with Dee-Day White and John ‘Tush’ Hamilton, timed to coincide with the film showing and concert this Friday 20 January at St Mary in the Castle, raising funds for the restoration of the former Hastings lifeboat, the ‘Cyril and Lilian Bishop’, known as the ‘Lily Bish’. (See link below for Chandra’s first article.)

In 2016, Dee-Day White and John ‘Tush’ Hamilton discovered the whereabouts of the ‘Cyril and Lilian Bishop’ lifeboat, The Ghost of Dunkirk. Here they take up the story, telling Chandra about their long, determined struggle to bring the boat home to Hastings.

In 2016, Kevin Boorman, Head of Communications and Marketing, Hastings Borough Council, phoned DeeDay to tell him that a man from Belgium named Henk van der Kellen, had found the ‘Cyril and Lilian Bishop’. She was in France, near Sens, five and a half hours from Calais, owned by Simon Evans, an ex Royal Navy Petty Officer and boatbuilder, who collected lifeboats. He owned Evans Marine Boatyard on the River Yonne at Migennes.

Lifeboat not for sale

Simon Evans

Simon Evans

Tush and Dee-Day had already restored one lifeboat, the ‘Priscilla MacBean’, now residing at the bottom of Old London Road near The Bourne. Did they really want all the work of taking on another one? Yes, they did! So they phoned Simon and told him they would like to buy her, receiving a stark reply: “I know who you are. Lifeboats are my passion. I buy lifeboats, I don’t sell them. She’s not for sale.”

Dee-Day said he would send photos of how the ‘Priscilla MacBean’ was when they had bought her, and how she was now, following a dedicated restoration project. “I’ve seen them, you’ve done a magnificent job,” said Simon. “But no; I stand firm on this, she’s part of my collection, she’ll never be yours.” Not one to take no for an answer, Dee-Day replied: “I’ll phone you every week until you tell me how much you want for her.”

And so he did – for six months – until Simon said: “Bloody hell, you’re so persistent!”

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The beautifully restored Priscilla MacBean on Old London Road.

Dogged determination

Next, Dee-Day asked Simon: “When you’ve finished her, what name will you put on her?” “The ‘Cyril and Lilian Bishop’,” answered Evans. “Yes,” Dee-Day said. “And on her stern you’ll put ‘Hastings’. So however long you have that boat, she’ll never be yours. She’ll always belong to Hastings. She’s part of Hastings, probably the most important lifeboat in the history of Hastings,” adding that he would never leave off from this quest. “Sell it to us, and she will still be yours, come and see her any time. We can’t come to you in France to see our boat.”

Eventually they got a letter from Simon: “I have thought very hard about what you both said and I’m beginning to think that maybe she should be in Hastings.” He’d had her for 15 years and spent thousands on renovating her up to her present state: he’d made a new deck, a new cabin and repaired her hull. But because of his workload, he hadn’t touched her for five years. He then named a figure that was way out of the range Dee-Day and Tush had in mind.

The art of negotiation

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Photo of Tush from Youtube film ‘The Cyril and Lilian Bishop’, uploaded by Justin Lycett.

Here Tush takes up the story: “In March 2016, we decided to go and see her; our wives Pat and Bev came too. We stayed the night in a hotel and in the morning we went to see Simon. It was a terrible day, pouring with rain. We went to look at the boat, but it was raining so hard that it was impossible, so we went back to his office. Then it stopped raining and we all went back to the boat. He took the sheets off and we saw she was in much better condition than the ‘Priscilla MacBean’ had been.

“Simon named a figure well out of our range, offering her on the condition that she would work as a pleasure boat on the sea. I explained that would be impossible because of the steeply sloping beach in Hastings.” “What about another condition?” Simon asked: “2020 in Dunkirk for the anniversary?” Tush said “We’d love to see her there. Maybe she’d come on a lorry, but she’d be there!

“We went back on board, and we saw Simon had done a lot of work – boat builder’s work that we would have had a job to do. He offered us the boat’s papers, the engine, the gear box, fuel tanks – all the equipment needed for her to go to sea.”

Dee-Day said: “We don’t need that, we want her purely for display. You can keep all that.” He told Simon his family history and said he had a testimonial to prove she had been in Dunkirk. “Make me an offer” said Simon, and Dee-Day did, saying: “At least we can try for a sponsor”.

Sealing the deal

“Our offer was accepted” Tush continues, “though it was hard to imagine coming up with such a colossal amount. We all shook hands on it, went back to Simon’s office and put down a deposit of £1,000 from our own pockets to seal the deal. Simon gave us a receipt and said when we gave him the rest of the money we could have the boat.

The Lily Bish in France with Simon Evans.

The Lily Bish in France with Simon Evans.

“I told Simon I was worried about the big hole in her bows because we didn’t have a boat-builder, only carpenters. Simon said he would do that, and also the mast, the bilge and the rudder. In fact he did a lot more work than that. A month to six weeks was agreed by when to find the money and arrange transport. We were over the moon!

“Back home,” Tush continues, “we went to French’s car recovery to find a means of transporting the boat back to England. He suggested we approach CPL, near Rye, they’re boat transporters all over Europe. They offered us a special price if we could wait until they were delivering to that part of France – and that’s what we did.

“When Dee-Day and I work together on projects, we each do what we do best, Dee-Day does fund raising and I’m project manager. Dee-Day found a sponsor who gave £1,500; then there were pots in pubs, posters of her all over the place, pictures in the newspapers. There was credibility because of how we’d restored the ‘Priscilla MacBean’, and there were volunteers, carpenters, blacksmiths etc. all at the ready.”

Dee-Day’s son, Little Dee-Day, of Skinner’s Sheds, remembering his granddad, became the main sponsor, but he doesn’t want the amount he gave to be disclosed.

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Home at last.

Happy homecoming

“The date for her home-coming was arranged for July, and the four of us went over to France. Dee-Day had arranged for the BBC to be there, the Mayor of Migennes, dignitaries from Hastings council, and Skinner’s Sheds. There were flags everywhere and a crane was laid on.

The Lily Bish

The Lily Bish

The evening before we left we took the CPL lorry driver out to dinner; it was all filmed. Half-way back, we overtook the ‘Lily Bish’, her French and English flags flying all through her three day trip home.

“Now she is at the East Hastings Sea Angling Association (EHSAA) and as from July, the volunteers have been rubbing her down and cleaning the joints. The main work is being done by the carpenters, all to bring her back to how she would have been in 1950. Since November, she lies under scaffolding and heavy plastic sheeting so she can be worked on through the winter. She can be brought back to exactly how she was, because I have a perfect replica of her, made by Bill Hilder, a member of the crew, it’s in the Fishermen’s Museum.

Bill Hilder making the model of The Lily Bish

Bill Hilder making the model of The Lily Bish

Blessing of the sea

“She’ll be ready to receive her blessing of the sea in June 2017: the same boat, the same date, in the same place where she was first blessed by the vicar in 1931, opposite Winkle Island, right where Tom’s Cabin was, which was pulled down to build the Jerwood.

“Then she’ll go up All Saints Street, near the church, where it’s right and proper for her to be, near the graves of all those who were the heart of the Old Town. Many of her crew, and the families of her crew, are buried there: Dee-Day’s father, who was head launcher, his brother and other relations that were crew, and my father, who was on the ‘Charles Arkcoll’, the previous lifeboat, and may have served on the ‘Lily Bish.’

The Cyril and Lilian Bishop

The Cyril and Lilian Bishop

Donations ‘desperately needed’

“The Mayor of Hastings, who is the patron of both the ‘Priscilla MacBean’ and the ‘Lily Bish’ announced that donations are desperately needed for the new dry harbour in the Old Town. Sponsors can be photographed on board with the Mayor, or in front of their own businesses. There will be an Honours Board with sponsors’ and donors’ names on it.”

Now, with all the volunteers working, and everything planned, a great deal money is needed – not for wages, but for materials. This is a labour of love and it would be good if everyone who is in any way involved with Hastings contributes, so when they walk past her on All Saints Street – all rigged out, with sails made of net by Tush, so the wind can go through; and ropes also, made of plastic, so it looks like old rope, and will last – they can feel they too helped to make this story possible.

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1 July 2016: Dee-Day and Kevin Boorman interview for BBC South East.

Dee-Day says: “All donations go to a proper legal trust with the Santander Bank. Everyone who donates is asked their reason. One story that still makes me weep is of a lady who gave me two envelopes, asking me to open them after she left. One contained a greatly generous donation. The other explained that her father had been picked up at Dunkirk beach by a lifeboat; she would like to believe it was the ‘Lily Bish’, and she would like to see her back in Hastings so as to sit by her in gratitude that she was given another 20 years with him.

“I have been given many answers, like: “My great grandfather was in the crew.” “My grandfather was picked up in Dunkirk.” A few months ago, the great granddaughter of Cyril and Lilian Bishop moved to Hastings, never knowing what was going on until she saw posters all over the place with the pictures of the ‘Lily Bish’, Ghost of Dunkirk!”

How to donate to the ‘Lily Bish’ fund

£15,000 – and more for her resting place – is necessary to complete the restoration of the ‘Cyril and Lilian Bishop’. Please make any donations payable to: The MacBean and Bishop Trust and send it to the Treasurer, 4, All Saints Crescent. Hastings TN35 5PD. Or any Santander Bank, by internet: Sort Code” 090128; Account Number: 49444310.

ghost-of-dunkirkThe Ghost of Dunkirk:

Fund raising event on Friday January 20 at St. Mary in the Castle, 7.15 – 11 pm: A film and concert supporting the campaign to restore the ‘Cyril and Lilian Bishop’. Live music from Jiggery Pokery, including a song written for the occasion. Also playing are The Salts, RX Shanty Men, Harmony One, and Now and Then.

Tickets in advance: £8.50. From Hastings Tourist Information Centre, and from Cobblers, the Jenny Lind and the FILO, all in High Street, Old Town. Tickets on the door: £10.00. (Doors open 6.45pm)

Chandra’s previous article in HOT on the Lily Bish’s journey.

Posted 13:42 Tuesday, Jan 17, 2017 In: Campaigns

1 Comment


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  1. DAVID E L MARSH

    An excellent article: congatulations to all involved in what is a heart-warming local event which touched and touches so many lives!

    Comment by DAVID E L MARSH — Tuesday, Jan 17, 2017 @ 14:07

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