‘I was searching for my cap, not Gosport ferry survivors’

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It was a trip down memory lane which unintentionally stirred reminiscences of a disastrous night in Portsmouth Harbour.

Maurice Kelly set out to visit his old royal navy training establishment, HMS St Vincent, Gosport, where he joined up in 1954.

That part of his day was successful, but then he began exploring the rear of its grounds and walked along the foreshore of Haslar Creek.

And that’s where he stumbled across the rusting remains of an old Gosport ferry.

Maurice, from Southampton, says: ‘On close examination I could just make out its name – Vadne.

‘This rang bells with me from Friday, July 12, 1957, when I was bowman on a launch based at HMS Dolphin. We were returning from Portsmouth when there was a collision between Vadne and HMS Redpole.’

A couple of years earlier, Maurice had completed his sea training in this training frigate.

He sent me his picture of Vadne and the cutting from the Evening News of July 13 reporting the death of a Birmingham man in the collision.

It happened while the ferry was en route to Portsmouth with 20 passengers and Redpole was on her way out of the harbour bound for Dover.

According to the Hampshire Telegraph’s report a week later, the collision was the first in 74 years’ operation of the Port of Portsmouth Steam Launch and Towing Company, and the first accident which resulted in a death.

That report said searches were carried out by launches from HMS Vernon, Dolphin and the aircraft carrier Albion in case other passengers had been thrown into the water. They hadn’t.

But Maurice adds: ‘The facts are partially correct. Yes, we were searching the harbour – in our boats and using aldis signalling lamps – but not, I’m afraid to say, for any survivors who had been knocked overboard.

‘We were searching, successfully I might add, for my cap which had blown off my head.

‘I learnt a lesson that night – always have your chin strap down.’

The final picture here comes from The News archive and shows oyster smacks at Emsworth.

It is dated 1971, but it could well have been taken at the turn of the last century were it not for the man’s modern clothes.