Knysna’s little ships – presentation of bells – by H.E.E. Stent
One of the most pleasant functions that has been held in Knysna for many months took place in the Board Room of the Town Hall last Friday afternoon (April/May 1948): the presentation of “The Bells”.
To many there, the occasion brought back poignant memories of people, war work, and pleasant associations, but particularly the memory of the little ships and their men who played so big a part in Knysna’s wartime life; for “The Bells” were those of the good ships M.L. 831 and M.L. 832 built in Knysna and commissioned there, the first being under the command of Lieutenant Lockhead and the second under Lieutenant Bird. They were the first two built in Knysna and launched there, the first by Mrs C.W. Thesen on June 18th, 1943, and the second by Mrs J. Shannon on July 5th, 1943.
These two little ships went to the East and played a splendid part in various battle areas of the Burmese rivers against the Japs.
The presentation was a simple spontaneous ceremony, started, after some introductory remarks by Mrs Ranger, by Commander Grove presenting Mrs Shannon with an attractive basket of zinnias and thanking her and her Knysna S.A.W.A.S. on behalf of all naval men for the kindness extended to them during their visits to Knysna.
Most fittingly Mrs Shannon presided at this gathering for she had been head of the S.AW.A.S. throughout the period of building of these little ships in Knysna, and had launched one. In her charming speech she mentioned the enthusiasm with which the S.A.W.A.S. of Knysna had answered the call for help and how quickly all kinds of aid had been forthcoming to make the ships as comfortable as possible for the men and their officers.
According to a letter from H.M. Dockyear, Simonstown, dated 12th April, 1948, the bells were despatched to Knysna by goods train on 1st April 1948, in package No. S.T.C. 71. The above ceremony must therefore have been held sometime in April or May of that year.
Mrs Shannon presented the bell of M.L. 831 into the safekeeping of Mr Harald Thesen, representing Thesens, the builders of the little ships, and the bell of M.L. 832 to Mr Asche de Smidt, president of the Knysna Yacht Club, stating that she felt sure the bells could not be in safer hands.
In thanking her on behalf of his firm for the honour bestowed, Mr Harald Thesen, in a short and spontaneously genuine speech told the gathering a little of the history of the two ships, and something of Mrs Ranger’s tremendous effort in getting the bells back to Knysna.
Mr Asche de Smidt followed him with remarks in appreciation of the work done by Mrs Shannon and her S.A.W.A.S. and expressed the thanks of the Yacht Club for the gift. The bell would find an honoured place in the proposed new clubhouse in due course and would be a constant reminder, to the members, of the little ships and the men of the sea.
All three speakers stressed the fact that if it had not been for the persistence and enthusiasm of Mrs Gwen Ranger the bells would never have found their way back to Knysna. To her must go the thanks of the community for getting back such suitable mementos of Knysna’s little ships and their men. They will be treasured by those who hold them and will remain a tangible sign of one of Knysna’s many war efforts.
The bell presented to Messrs Thesen & Co. was displayed in their boardroom, and can now be seen in the Maritime History exhibition in the Old Goal museum. The other bell, presented to the Knysna Yacht Club, has unfortunately disappeared.
Source: ‘Memories of Knysna’ researched and compiled by Mrs Margaret Parkes and Mrs Vicky Williams