After restoration work that was originally commenced on a south London Thameside site in 2009, and then a subsequent transfer to Nielson’s boatyard at Gloucester for a major refit, the historic London fireboat Massey Shaw finally returned to her native Thames in late November 2013. Soon after, the fireboat was displayed at the 2014 London International Boat Show where she was a star attraction.
Named after London’s famous Victorian Chief Officer, Massey Shaw was originally built and launched at a Cowes boatyard on the Isle of Wight in 1935 as the new flagship of London Fire Brigade’s River Service. In May 1940, she survived three round trips to the Dunkirk beaches, bringing back over 700 soldiers of the British Expeditionary Force as well as ferrying many others to larger vessels.
September 1940 saw the beginning of the London Blitz when Massey Shaw and other fireboats of the LFB River Service played a critical role during the 57 nights of continuous bombing pumping water ashore from the River Thames when street mains and hydrants were out of action.
Massey Shaw is credited with providing firefighting water for many hours to fire crews working in the St.Paul’s Cathedral area of the City of London at a rate of 20 tons a minute when all else had failed.
The fireboat was finally retired from front-line firefighting and rescue duties on London’s river in 1971, and was given over to a Preservation Society, a number of whose members had served on Massey Shaw. After many setbacks that dragged on over two decades, the group finally won Heritage Lottery funding of almost £1million to restore the unique London Fire Brigade fireboat to its pre-World War II glory.
A very significant commemorative event in Massey Shaw’s history – the five yearly surviving Little Ships Armada to Dunkirk took place during 20th to 25th May 2015. This event marked the 75th anniversary of Operation Dynamo, the evacuation of the British Expeditionary Force from the beaches off Dunkirk during May 1940.
Along with 50 other surviving Little Ships, Massey Shaw made the return journey to Dunkirk via Ramsgate Harbour and took part over the weekend in a number of commemorations of Operation Dynamo.
Back in London, Massey Shaw has since taken part in a salute to HM The Queen and provided other water displays on the Thames, followed in September by taking part in a Historic Boats Show in St. Katherine’s Dock under Tower Bridge. Details of future events and membership of the Massey Shaw Education Trust together with more images of the Dunkirk trip and more information about this historic and unique fire service vessel can be found at www.masseyshaw.org.