View Full Version : The bravest person you ever met.

Rodney Mills
16th June 2012, 07:06 PM
Mine was an Essex fisherman in 1949 or there abouts. I was eleven years old, his name was "Snappy" Noakes and the place was the Peter Boat pub, Old Leigh-on-Sea, Essex, England.

It was a summer Sunday morning; my stepfather let me tag along, while he enjoyed a preprandial 'yarn and a pint', in the Peter Boat. I waited outside with a lemonade and an arrowroot biscuit. To this day I can close my eyes and envision it as though it was yesterday. The tide was out, cockle boats were laying on the mud, or barely floating in the creek that meanders through the marshes. There's a row of cockle sheds, and from within, steam rises from the boilers cooking today's catch, there's a blend of aromas. Cigarette smoke and stale beer from the Peter Boat, marsh gas and salt from the mudflats and a strong whiff of cockles. All combined, it's pleasantly memorable. Workers are shoveling empty shells out of the back of the sheds onto mounds of accumulated shells. People are strolling past the sheds, some stop to buy a pint or quart of cockles for Sunday tea, some eat them off small china plates slavered with malt vinegar and black pepper.

My Step dad and a fisherman came out of the Public Bar, "Rodney, I want you to shake hands with a good mate of mine...Mr. "Snappy" Noakes." Mr. Noakes was very old, around fifty: he wore a weather beaten peaked cap, pushed to the back of his head, a navy blue turtleneck sweater with the sleeves pushed up, patched dark trousers and well worn hip boots, rolled down to his knees. His face was ruddy and a mass of wrinkles and if he had a gold earring I'd take him for a pirate or a wrecker. After a few more words--"Be seeing you Snappy," says my Step dad and a "Nice to meet you boy," from Snappy, we head home for Sunday dinner. "You just shook hands with a bona fide British hero. Snappy's a legend around here...It was late May, 1940 and our Army and the French Army have been pushed back to the coast of France by the Jerries [Germans]. They are slowly being squeezed into a French port called Dunkirk. Half are in the harbour area and the rest on the beach. Our Royal and Merchant ships are trying to get as close to shore as they dare and using their lifeboats to rescue ours and the French's soldiers. There's something like a hundred thousand on the beach and they're not denting it. If we can't evacuate our troops it's curtains for all of us....Winston Churchill tells the Nation that we are 'up the creek' if we lose our boys...and calls for anything that can float to help get the Allied Army home: Go to the beaches of Dunkirk. Lifeboats, fishing boats, cabin cruisers from all around the country sailed for Dunkirk. Snappy was crewing on a fishing boat, he was late and it sailed without him. So he takes his rowing boat and bloody well rowed from Old Leigh to Dunkirk. He spends three days ferrying troops from the beach to jury-rigged troopships...that's with Stukas dive bombing, the R.A.F. dogfighting with Jerries and our ships and shore batteries blasting away. He's finally ordered away by some Admiral and told to return to England....So he goes back to the beach, picks up three soldiers and rows to Dover...sleeps for a couple of hours then rows from Dover to Old Leigh-on-Sea"!

Cheers, Rodney

Tony Wilding
16th June 2012, 09:39 PM
THAT name rings a bell, my first boat was built by Johnson Sons and Jago just past the cockle sheds, in 1955, a bit later i worked on the cockle boat Ranger 11 , owned by Steve Meddle, another Boatyard allmost next door to the Peter Boat was called Seakings, all changed there now, cockle sheds are still there.