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Tollesbury - Village of the Plough and Sail

"Iris Mary" CK 105

This is the story of an Essex fishing smack - the "Iris Mary" owned by Joe Heard of Tollesbury. Fishermens' jobs were protected from early on in the war - not only were they dangerous but they were essential for the War effort in providing food for the nation, so fishermen were not "Called Up"

At the end of May 1940 came the news of the crisis in France and the retreat of our troops to Dunkirk. Naval ships were sent to embark as many as possible as soon as possible. They had to 'stand off' about a mile from the shore and troops were ferried out to them by small boats. As the situation worsend and fishing ports in this area. There was an instant response to this request from the Admiralty. These men knew nothing of War, they knew the terrible dangers, but fishermen young and old set sail that day - the "Iris Mary" and her crew among them.

They sailed to Ramsgate and waited for further instructions. The men went ashore and stocked up with food for the hungry Soldiers they hoped to bring home. However after a seven to eight hour wait, they recieced the order that not more small boats were being sent over and they must return to base. (The Barfe "Tollesbury" was allowed to go through and brought back over two-hundred men).

Back at home the biggest danger to the Fishermen was the magnetic mines. In 1940 these mines, the first of Hitler's 'Secret Weapons' began to take their toll on the Tollesbury fishing fleet. In 1940 "Thistle", the other smack owned by Joe was working off Clacton when she struck a mine. Her crew were picked up by the men on the "Iris Mary" but the "Thistle" sank. At about this time the Rosena owned by Joe's father was also damaged by an exploding mine. She was towed back to port, her crew unharmed.

In 1942 the barge "Bankside", loaded with flour, was mined off the Maplin Sands. The skipper was killed but the mate managed to get into the row boat. This was found drifting by the "Iris Mary". At that time Joe had a young lad with him as one of the crew. When he saw the bargeman, covered in flour, the thought it was a ghost and fainted.

He came round by the time "Iris Mary" reached Burnham and the "ghost" was taken ashore. Fishing and shrimping in the Summer, had always been back - breaking, tedious and dangerous work. Now apart from watching out for the Gulls (a sign of a shoal of fish) the crew had to be on the look out for German planes which often flew low and straffed the smacks for airmen who had been forced to ditch into the North Sea, for increasing wreckage on the surface.

Whatmade life even more hazardous, were more and more wrecks of ships and planes on the bottom of the sea. Fishing nets were often caught on these wrecks and badly torn. Often it was too dangerous to pull up the nets and they had to be cut off and abandoned.

After the war, Joe and the "Iris Mary" continued shrimping in the Summer and spratting in the winter. When he retired the "Iris Mary" had a number of owners but when fishing ended in this area, she was laid up in Johnny Milgate's yard in Peldon for many years.

I am glad to add that she was bought and has was restored to life and should you ever to go Brightlingsea Harbour, look out for CK 105 - the Iris Mary - looking really splendid!

©Fay Heard, Joe Heard, WW2 People's War
Reproduced under the following terms

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