RAF High Speed Motor-Launches – Stornoway (1944) – As Recorded by Stephen Bone

Stephen Bone was the ‘Admiralty Artist’ who was Commissioned in 1944 to Record Images of he Royal Navy Patrol Service in 1944 on Duty in and Around Stornoway – Recording the Flotilla led by the HMS Beaumaris Castle and Other RNPS Shipping.

From 2010-2013 I was in written and verbal communication with RNPS Veteran – George Smith (1924-2016) – who entrusted me with his life-story regarding his Service in the Royal Navy Patrol Service (RNPS) aboard that HMS Arkwright and HMS Beaumaris Castle as the ‘Telegraphist’ (or Communications Officer). I think at eighteen years old, George Smith joined the RNPS from the Home Guard although his had spent time working on the land clearing forests and I think in coalmines (all between the ages of fifteen-eighteen years). He trained on HMS Arkwright as a ‘Telegraphist’ and was on postal duty on the day the following photograph was taken. The photographer, however, added his picture after the event:

George Smith (1924-2016) – Trained Aboard the HMS Arkwright c. 1942-1943

George Smith provided me with fourteen coloured photographs of the pictures and paintings made by the famous artist Stephen Bone. Two of the fourteen photographs of Stephen Bone’s work produced at Stornoway feature the boats of the Royal Airforce (RAF) High-Speed Motor Launches which are depicted as follows:

RAF High-Speed Motor-Launch at Anchor
RAF Sailors and Their High-Speed Motor-Launches

The RAF High-Speed Motor-Launches formed an often obscure but highly effective ‘Special Force’ that was in-charge of rescuing downed allied airmen before they could be killed or captured by enemy activity. In reality, however, these RAF launches rescued ANY allied military or civilian personnel and would ‘scramble’ alongside the Royal Navy and British Army and the Lifeboats. For taking on this extra danger voluntarily, these RAF men were highly regarded. These boats were fast and piloted like an aeroplane with dash and vigour – whilst the crews were trained to be incredibly vigorous when engaging the enemy so as to scare them away and out of the area!

During April, 1918, the Royal Navy Air Service (RNAS) merged with the ‘Royal Flying Corps’ (RFC) of the British Army to form the ‘Royal Airforce’ (RAF). My paternal great grandfather – Archibald Britton Wyles (1887-1941) – served in the RNAS between 1917-1919 – was still present when it transitioned into the ‘RAF’ – thus becoming a member of the RAF at its inception! However, all the boats operated by the RNAS were co-opted into the RAF as the ‘RAF Marine Craft Section’ and later as the ‘RAF Marine Branch’. I am informed that some models of these boats contained motorised machine-gun turrets borrowed from RAF Bomber-planes and could pack a considerable punch in combat! I contacted the ‘Air Sea Rescue & Marine Craft Section Club‘ – a ‘Veteran’ association – to ask about the boats depicted by Stephen Bone. As with many of these Veteran Associations, they exist to cater to the needs of a few qualifying ex-Serviceman or women, and have little interest in the broader community or assisting others to gain knowledge, etc. I had to send an email of enquiry via a ‘Membership’ email address as there was no contact listed for ‘General Enquiries’. The next day I received the following (brief) answer to my questions:

‘The boats portrayed in the painting are 67ft Thornycroft High Speed Launch Mk.II’s, 2589 and 2590.  Both boats were brought into service in the  RAF Air Sea Rescue Branch in mid 1943 and disposed of in June 1946

If you click on the url below it will take you to the relevant page on my website for that class of boat.  Sadly there are no pictures of those two craft but there are many other of the same class.’

Although the above author suggested that he would be open to further dialogue regarding the operational capabilities of these boats, he unfortunately did not respond to my further questions regarding the weaponry and armament used (if any) on these boats, etc. My view is that this is ‘national’ history and its details belong to all British people equally, and ultimately to all peace-loving citizens of the world! In many ways, this ‘indifferent’ response received from the above Veteran Association’ betrays the good reputation these RAF sailors earned through their bravery during WWII! Of course, it could be that after reading my blog the above author does not appreciate my left-wing political views, but again, along with millions of other of men and women (who were allies of the UK around the world both before and during WWII), they fought and won the very freedom of thought I now, enjoy, exercise and highly appreciate!

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