Dunkirk 'little ship' hits market for £300,000

The perfect retreat! Dunkirk ‘little ship’ that helped bring Allied troops back from France in WWII before being saved from scrapyard and converted into three-bed home hits market for £300,000

  • MV Gainsborough Trader took part in Operation Dynamo, ferrying troops from the beaches of Dunkirk in 1940
  • The 70ft cargo vessel was originally barge for transporting coal and flour but was requisitioned by Royal Navy
  • At first it took some of the thousands of stranded soldiers from off the beaches to the larger vessels
  • It was then ordered back to pick up 140 exhausted troops and take them all the way to England 

An original Dunkirk ‘little ship’ that has been converted into a historic home has gone on the market for £300,000.

The MV Gainsborough Trader took part in Operation Dynamo, ferrying troops from the beaches of Dunkirk under heavy fire in May 1940.

The 70ft Humber Keel cargo vessel was originally a barge for transporting coal and flour.

It was requisitioned by the Royal Navy in 1940, when it was called MFH (Master of Foxhounds), and made repeated trips to Dunkirk.

At first it took some of the thousands of stranded soldiers from off the beaches to the larger vessels.

It was then ordered to Dunkirk’s mole – the stone wall which stretched half a mile out to sea – to pick up 140 exhausted troops and take them back to England. 

An original Dunkirk ‘little ship’ that has been converted into a historic home has gone on the market for £300,000. The MV Gainsborough Trader took part in Operation Dynamo, ferrying troops from the French beaches under heavy fire in May 1940

The boat was requisitioned by the Royal Navy in 1940, when it was called MFH (Master of Foxhounds), and made repeated trips to Dunkirk. Pictured: The boat in its heyday

The 70ft Humber Keel cargo vessel was originally a barge for transporting coal and flour. Pictured: The living space with dining area and log burner inside the restored ship

It was one of the last boats to leave the mole while under enemy fire.

The 2017 film Dunkirk told the story of the evacuation and depicted the role of one of the civilian vessels which helped to ferry troops from the beaches.  

After the war, Dunkirk MHF was again used to transport coal and flour before being used as a parcel boat in the 1960s.

It was saved from the scrapyard in 1995 when its then owners converted it into a house boat with three bedrooms, a kitchen, dining room and lounge.

But they also made sure its diesel engine was in good working order so it could be taken elsewhere. 

The boat is currently moored at South Dock Marine in Southwark, south London. Its interior has traditional wooden fittings with brass portholes and instruments. Pictured: The stunning original door stands out brightly with its red coat of paint

The boat’s wheel house is seen above. The boat helped was used to take some of the thousands of stranded Allied soldiers from the beaches at Dunkirk to larger vessels 

The galley includes a fridge, freezer and dishwasher, a saloon with a wood burning stove, a dining room which seats eight and a bathroom with double sinks and a Victorian-style tub


Left: The boat’s twin sinks in the faithfully restored bathroom. Right: New owners can relax by enjoying a bath or shower

The boat’s living space, complete with dining table and wooden floor, shelving and large mirror, is seen in the above image

The restored kitchen includes a lavish breakfast bar and Aga, perfect for any new owner who wants to entertain guests

In 2015, the Gainsborough Trader was joined by around 50 other ‘little ships’ as it sailed back to Dunkirk to mark the 75th anniversary of the evacuation

The current owner bought it in 2011.

A year later it took part in the River Thames flotilla of 670 boats to mark the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee.

In dates: The life of the Gainsborough Trader 

1931: Built by Dunstons of Thorne for Messrs Furley & Co. One of the first steel Humber Keel motor barges to have a diesel engine. Her predecessors used sail or steam 

The boat was moved from the river Humber to the River Thames after being bought by cargo firm Pickfords. She was mostly used to transport flour and grain.

1937: Pickfords moved her to Newport on the Isle of Wight and changed her name to MFH (Master of Fox Hounds). 

1939: The boat had a new engine fitted in 1939. This was refurbished in 1995.

1940: Requisitioned by the Ministry of War Transport for use in Operation Dynamo. 

After the war: Returned to the Isle of Wight before becoming a postal boat.

1977: Was taken into private ownership and used as a family home

1987: Bought by another private owner

1994: Found on the south coast in very poor condition. Jay and Dawn Jones-Cooper restore her and change her name back to Gainsborough Trader.

2011: Changed hands once again.

2012: Participated in River Thames flotilla of 670 boats to mark the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee.

2015: Returns to Dunkirk with other ‘little ships’ to mark 75th anniversary of evacuation. 

It was an event that set a Guinness World Record for the world’s largest boat parade and saw an estimated one million spectators on the banks of the river.

The Gainsborough Trader even sailed back to Dunkirk with about 50 other ‘little ships’ in 2015 to mark the 75th anniversary of the evacuations.

The boat is currently moored at South Dock Marine in Southwark, south London.

Its interior has traditional wooden fittings with brass portholes and instruments.

The galley includes a fridge, freezer and dishwasher, a saloon with a wood burning stove, a dining room which seats eight and a bathroom with double sinks and a Victorian-style tub.

A registered National Historic Vessel, she is also a certified Dunkirk Little Ship.

Catherine Carpenter, director of Zeewarriors Brokerage, which is handling the boat’s sale, described it as a ‘piece of history’.

She said: ‘MV Gainsborough Trader is owned by a man who has kept her in good working order but has decided to downsize.

‘She is in a prime location on the marina, with a great back deck that catches the morning sunrise and the sunset, too.

‘As the boat has three bedrooms, it could be suitable for a young couple who liked to entertain, or for a small family.

‘If people like water sports, such as paddle boarding or kayaking, she’d be a great buy as many people on the dock enjoy these activities.

‘Or if people are into maritime history then this could be their ideal home..’

Ms Carpenter also believes the boat would suit people who need to live in London for work during the week, or those who wanted to downsize and fancied a life on the water.

Ten per cent of the sale price price payable goes to Southwark Council for the transfer of the residential licence fee.

About 700 of the Dunkirk ‘little ships’ – private, commercial, sailing and lifeboats – took part in Operation Dynamo but only 192 of them exist today.

The 2017 film Dunkirk told the story of the evacuation and depicted the role of one of the civilian vessels which helped to ferry troops from the beaches

The Gainsborough Trader has three bedrooms. Pictured: Two of its single beds, which lie side by side surrounded by ornate wooden panelling 

There is also a bunk bed set-up on the boat. Catherine Carpenter, director of Zeewarriors Brokerage, which is handling the boat’s sale, believes the boat would suit people who need to live in London for work during the week, or those who wanted to downsize and fancied a life on the water

The boat was saved from the scrapyard in 1995 when its then owners converted it into a house boat with three bedrooms, a kitchen, dining room and lounge. Pictured: A clock on the boat

After the war, Dunkirk MHF was again used to transport coal and flour before being used as a parcel boat in the 1960s. Pictured: The engine room

The diesel engine is in good working order after it was restored in the 1990s. Pictured: The engine room

Evacuation of Dunkirk: How 338,000 Allied troops were saved in ‘miracle of deliverance’ after the German Blitzkreig saw Nazi forces sweep into France

The evacuation from Dunkirk was one of the biggest operations of the Second World War and was one of the major factors in enabling the Allies to continue fighting.

It was the largest military evacuation in history, taking place between May 27 and June 4, 1940 after Nazi Blitzkreig – ‘Lightning War’ – saw German forces sweep through Europe. 

 The evacuation, known as Operation Dynamo, saw an estimated 338,000 Allied troops rescued from northern France. But 11,000 Britons were killed during the operation – and another 40,000 were captured and imprisoned.

Described as a ‘miracle of deliverance’ by wartime prime minister Winston Churchill, it is seen as one of several events in 1940 that determined the eventual outcome of the war.  

The Second World War began after Germany invaded Poland in 1939, but for a number of months there was little further action on land. 

But in early 1940, Germany invaded Denmark and Norway and then launched an offensive against Belgium and France in western Europe.

Hitler’s troops advanced rapidly, taking Paris – which they never achieved in the First World War – and moved towards the Channel.

It was the largest military evacuation in history, taking place between May 27 and June 4, 1940. The evacuation, known as Operation Dynamo, saw an estimated 338,000 Allied troops rescued from northern France. But 11,000 Britons were killed during the operation – and another 40,000 were captured and imprisoned 

They reached the coast towards the end of May 1940, pinning back the Allied forces, including several hundred thousand troops of the British Expeditionary Force. Military leaders quickly realised there was no way they would be able to stay on mainland Europe.

Operational command fell to Bertram Ramsay, a retired vice-admiral who was recalled to service in 1939. From a room deep in the cliffs at Dover, Ramsay and his staff pieced together Operation Dynamo, a daring rescue mission by the Royal Navy to get troops off the beaches around Dunkirk and back to Britain. 

On May 14, 1940 the call went out. The BBC made the announcement: ‘The Admiralty have made an order requesting all owners of self-propelled pleasure craft between 30ft and 100ft in length to send all particulars to the Admiralty within 14 days from today if they have not already been offered or requisitioned.’

Boats of all sorts were requisitioned – from those for hire on the Thames to pleasure yachts – and manned by naval personnel, though in some cases boats were taken over to Dunkirk by the owners themselves. 

They sailed from Dover, the closest point, to allow them the shortest crossing. On May 29, Operation Dynamo was put into action. 

When they got to Dunkirk they faced chaos. Soldiers were hiding in sand dunes from aerial attack, much of the town of Dunkirk had been reduced to ruins by the bombardment and the German forces were closing in.

Above them, RAF Spitfire and Hurricane fighters were headed inland to attack the German fighter planes to head them off and protect the men on the beaches.

As the little ships arrived they were directed to different sectors. Many did not have radios, so the only methods of communication were by shouting to those on the beaches or by semaphore. 

Space was so tight, with decks crammed full, that soldiers could only carry their rifles. A huge amount of equipment, including aircraft, tanks and heavy guns, had to be left behind.

The little ships were meant to bring soldiers to the larger ships, but some ended up ferrying people all the way back to England. The evacuation lasted for several days.

Prime Minister Churchill and his advisers had expected that it would be possible to rescue only 20,000 to 30,00 men, but by June 4 more than 300,000 had been saved.

The exact number was impossible to gauge – though 338,000 is an accepted estimate – but it is thought that over the week up to 400,000 British, French and Belgian troops were rescued – men who would return to fight in Europe and eventually help win the war.

But there were also heavy losses, with around 90,000 dead, wounded or taken prisoner. A number of ships were also lost, through enemy action, running aground and breaking down. Despite this, the evacuation itself was regarded as a success and a great boost for morale.

In a famous speech to the House of Commons, Churchill praised the ‘miracle of Dunkirk’ and resolved that Britain would fight on: ‘We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills. We shall never surrender!’ 

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