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RML 497 Western Lady III

Following the AGM of the D&K Society on Tuesday, John Risdon gave an illustrated talk about RML (Rescue Motor Launch) 497, the Western Lady III. In doing so he quoted extensively from the memoirs of a wartime crew member, Les Parkinson. This familiar sight on the river was manufactured in Southampton in 1942 as one of the 650 built for light military duties including air sea rescue. The design first came to Noel Macklin in the Fairmile Inn at Cobham in Surrey, and they were timber prefabricated vessels manufactured in furniture factories, shipped by rail and assembled in small shipyards. RML 497 was completed in 3 weeks at Galmpton on the River Dart and was one of 250 built here. 114’ x 16’ and weighing 67 tons, she was powered by 2 Hall Scott petrol engines lend leased from the USA. Diesel engines were unavailable at the time and the high octane petrol was stored underground at Berry Head. At 12k she had a range of 1560 miles but at a top speed of 20k this was reduced to 600miles. With a crew of 18 she was armed with Vickers pom poms, oerilkons, machine guns and depth charges and had an aft sick bay for treating rescued air crew.

In 1942 she was stationed at Portland, and in 1943 at Scapa Flow. In 1944 she was moved to Appledore for rescue duties in the Bristol Channel and a refit, and on D day she was back in Dartmouth. Fairmiles were slower than RAF rescue launches but could operate in inclement weather. They were prominent in the 1942 raids at St Nazairre and Dieppe where 300 men were killed, and RML 497 figured in the rescue
of downed RAF aircraft, a US flying fortress and a dramatic burial at sea of a dead German E boat mechanics called Obermachinist Pigorsch.

After the war RML 497 was equipped with smaller engines and used by civilian owners at Totnes , Torbay and Swanage for passenger services. In 2009 she was bought by the Greenway Ferry company and underwent a £30,000 refit for pleasure cruises between Dartmouth and Torbay. She was then renamed the Fairmile and was visited by the Princess Royal.

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