RNLB “Charles Cooper Henderson” - A Dunkirk “Little Ship” (story 2)

Ex Dungeness Lifeboat “Charles Cooper Henderson” was one of nineteen RNLI Lifeboats that played an important part in 'Operation Dynamo', the miraculous rescue and evacuation of a total of 338,226 Allied Troops from the Port and beaches of Dunkirk during the period of 26th May to 4th June 1940. Exact figures are unknown but it is believed that more than 2,000 soldiers were ferried out to larger vessels by the small and very brave Crew of the “Charles Cooper Henderson”, alone.

We are most grateful to Mr Chris Sandwell (Retired Crew Member at RNLI Margate Lifeboat Station) for sending to us the following article which was originally published in the Margate Historical Society Newsletter volume 9 number 5, dated December 2006. The article was written by Chris' very good friend (the late) Mick Twyman, (affectionately known locally as 'Mr Margate'), a local history buff, who always had strong links with the station and had generously provided them with many photos to display after all of the station's own ones had been lost in the dramatic collapse of Margate Jetty, occasioning serious damage to the boathouse in 1978 and also with the help and research provided by another of Chris' very good friends, Alf ('Legs') Beeching, an ex-Merchant Navy man.

The article reflects the horrors experienced at that particular time and the sheer doggedness, heroism and skill of the “Charles Cooper Henderson's” Coxswain Robert Hector (RN) and his Crew in achieving the successful rescue of so many beleaguered Allied Troops.

At the end of the article, we are privileged to have been authorised by Robert (Bob) Hector's daughter, Sylvia Warford, to display several photographs of her father, together with brief details of Bob's life story. An amazing man, indeed.

As a footnote to this introduction, Chris Sandwell mentioned to us that his late Grandfather was on the Crew of the Margate Lifeboat during the War and he was also the Pier Foreman (Deputy Harbourmaster), whose job it was to supervise the berthing of the many ships and boats that unloaded at Margate. Although we can never know for sure, it would be very coincidental - but quite possible - if it were Chris' Grandfather who (as you will read), shouted down for the boat to be moved, when it first arrived back safely from its actions at Dunkirk!

Please enjoy reading this thought-provoking article, as we have here at Dungeness.

John Poole
Retired Foreman Launcher
Dungeness Lifeboat Station

Dungeness Lifeboat Dunkirk p1

Dungeness Lifeboat Dunkirk p2

Dungeness Lifeboat Dunkirk p3

Brief Details of Robert's Life Story

Robert joined the Royal Navy at the age of 18 during the First World War serving on Mine Sweepers and Mine Layers.

Robert was in the Royal Navy for both world wars. Serving on many ships including HMS Victory and HMS Hood. He took the Dungeness Lifeboat to Dunkirk to pick up survivors. He was there for three days and two nights and was wounded by shrapnel in the chin, carrying the scar for the rest of his life.

Robert met and married Dorothy Elizabeth Mary Squire on 16th December 1933 at St Stephens Church, Walworth, London. Their banns were read on HMS Hood. They had three children.

After leaving the Royal Navy he ran his own shoe repair business at No 48 St Stephen’s Road, Buckland, Portsmouth, Hampshire until the 1950s when he went into the Dockyard as an Electricians Mate, retiring through ill health in 1960.

Robert was born in Chelsea on the 9th June 1900 and died of cancer in Portsmouth on the 20th September 1991. His ashes were buried at sea, the service being carried out on HMS Cardiff.