Amateur boat builders near Aylesbury on mission to restore WW2 rescue boat

A former cabinet maker and a retired psychiatric nurse have formed an unlikely partnership to restore a Second World War sea rescue boat.

Richard Kay, now a fire safety consultant, was looking for a project after injuring himself racing power boats when he set his heart on acquiring a Royal Air Force (RAF) Seaplane Tender rescue vessel, which measure 41.5 foot in length.

ST437 restoration in progress

ST437 restoration in progress

“When I first saw them I thought they were beautiful and I made it my quest to find one,” Richard said.

He eventually found what he was looking for in Somerset and, responding to an advertisement that claimed 'just a lick of paint needed,' he set off to inspect it.

Though the description turned out to be somewhat overstating the quality of the boat's condition, “it had more water inside it than out,” Richard's restoration partner, Baron Dibble interjected, Richard decided to go ahead and make the purchase.

Baron, who is Richard's closest neighbour though they both live in fairly isolated farmhouses, became involved soon afterwards when he saw the large object being transported past his house.

ST437 in service during WW2

ST437 in service during WW2

“I thought, what the hell is coming down the road?” Baron recalls.

This was October 2017, and ever since the pair have been chipping away at restoring the boat, which was first launched in July 1941, to its former glory.

Although they have no experience in boat building, neither seem fazed by the task ahead.

“We're learning as we go,” Richard said.

The rescue boat's current interior

The rescue boat's current interior

Sadly, the original civilian name of the boat has been lost in the annals of time, so Richard has renamed the boat 'Dame Vera Lynn.'

The former singer and actress was famously known as 'the forces sweetheart' during the war but Richard also has another connection with the star.

“When I was a school boy in Maidenhead I was a choir boy and we went to the Royal Festival Hall and were the backing singers for Vera Lynn,” he explained.

Richard even wrote to the now 102-year-old to ask for permission to name his boat after her and remarkably received a reply from Dame Vera saying that she would be delighted.

ST437 in Somerset just before collection

ST437 in Somerset just before collection

The amateur boat builders think the restoration will take about five years but are fairly relaxed about the timelines.

The former cabinet maker said: “We have a notional target of five years, but if it takes six or seven or ten then all the better.”

Pondering what to do when the boat is finished, Richard said:

“I've got a dream about doing one big trip all the way around Europe.”

Baron said: “What's nice is that at the end of each day we position a couple of chairs and look at what we've achieved.”

The project to restore the rescue boat is self-funded but they have started up a crowd funding page which can be accessed here: www.justgiving.com/crowdfunding/st437.

You can follow the progress of the restoration here: www.st437.org