Skippers & crew – by Peter Ranger
My family moved to Knysna from the Free State in 1936 as my father was take up an appointment as Accountant with the Standard Bank, under the then manager, Mr Broster.
War had broken out in Europe and for my brother and I, both then in junior school, times were exciting. Many of the Royal Air Force personnel undergoing training at 61 Air School, George, and 45 Air School, Oudtshoorn regarded Knysna as their second home.
During these years Thesen built M.L.’s which came to be known as Knysna’s “little ships”. These vessels were destined to see service in Malaya, Burma, Ceylon and other areas of the Far East. Photographs in my possession show them proceeding to action stations in Burmese rivers. The little ships were built two at a time, and their crews became a familiar sight in Knysna while they attended launching, fitting and sea trials, before sailing out through the Heads to some unknown destination.
H.M.M.L.’s 831 and 832 were the first two ships built at the Thesen yard. These were commanded by Lieutenants I.W. Lockhead and Bird respectively, and both ships were adopted by Knysna. The two skippers and men such as Coxswain, Ken Cockcroft (832), Nobby Clarke, David Skey and Eric Stopforth and they received regular parcels from Knysna, up to September 1945 when the Japanese surrendered.
After 831 and 832 came 852 and 853 with Bill Viljoen, John Field and Eric Bruwer who were well known in Knysna. 895 and 896 followed and with them, Skippers Thorn and Dargavel. Skippers Corker and Collier were the next to come to Knysna and take command of 850 and 851. The last two ships built were 4001 and 4002 and as they sailed, Knysna said goodbye to Angus Cross, Dusty Miller, Hal Lawson and the rest of their crews.
Source: ‘Memories of Knysna’, researched and compiled by Mrs Margaret Parkes & Mrs Vicky Williams