The Calshot was built by John I. Thornycroft & Co at Southampton in 1929. She was launched on 4th November by Mrs Hilda White and entered service with The Southampton Isle of Wight and South of England Royal Mail Steam Packet Company Limited - or to give it a more familiar name - Red Funnel. At that time Southampton was known as the Gateway to the World and was a hub for ocean liner travel. Calshot's role was to act as both tug and tender to great liners like the Olympic, Mauretania, United States and, of course, the Queen Mary and Queen Elizabeth. In addition to assisting ships in an out of Southampton, Calshot would also serve them as they lay at anchor by ferrying passengers, baggage and even cars to and from the ships that anchored at Cowes Roads rather than come into port. Over the years she carried dozens of famous passengers including Bob Hope, Cary Grant, Judy Garland, Liz Taylor and even Prime Minister Winston Churchill.
When the Second World War began, Calshot was soon requisitioned by the British Admiralty and re-designated HMS Calshot. She was transferred to Scapa Flow initially, before being moved to the Gourock on the River Clyde in 1942. There she acted as tender to the RMS Queen Elizabeth and RMS Queen Mary as they brought troops and supplies to the UK from the United States of America. Before Calshot returned to the south of England a letter was sent from the Clyde Admiralty Berthing Officer to Calshot's master and crew. It read "It did not take long to find that the Calshot could be depended upon to do anything at any time, and do it efficiently, thereby giving complete satisfaction at all times. My best wishes go with you in your new sphere of activities, knowing well that whatever your particular job may be, the Calshot can be depended upon to give her best".
In May 1944 the Admiralty ordered HMS Calshot to return to the south coast in preparation for the Normandy landings. As D-Day approached, she was selected to serve as Headquarters ship for the Juno Beach sector of the landings. There seems to be little further detail about this chapter of her history, and if anyone can provide any more information or even supply any photographs we would be extremely pleased to hear from them.
Calshot was released from military duties in September 1945. She was extensively refitted before returning to the Red Funnel fleet in 1946 to continue to work as she had before the war. However, in 1964 she was sold by Red Funnel and purchased by a subsidiary of Holland America line. She was transferred to Ireland and renamed Galway Bay. It is at this time that her original triple expansion steam engines were replaced by diesel units. She would spend the next two decades working as a ferry on various routes. However, the years in Ireland saw her general condition deteriorate due to less than ideal maintenance.
In 1986 she was purchased by Southampton City Council in a rare moment of lucidity and she finally returned to her home port in October of that year. It was planned that Calshot would be the floating centrepiece of a new Maritime Museum in the city, however, in the custom to which locals residents are all too familiar, this Council project fell through. After some maintenance work the ship was eventually left to deteriorate by the Council, and in 1996 the Tug Tender Calshot Trust was formed with the aim of stemming the tide of rust and rot and then restoring this hugely important ship for future generations.
In December 1998 she was hauled from the water so that maintenance and repair work could be carried out on her hull. Later in the month Associated British Ports (ABP) agreed to a request from the Trust to berth Calshot in Southampton's Eastern Docks. The following year she was declared to be a national treasure and important part of the country's maritime heritage by the National Historic Ship Committee.
In 2005, Southampton City Council washed their hands of Calshot entirely by transferring ownership to the Tug Tender Calshot Trust. Considerable restoration work has taken place since then. Her engines now run and her funnel has been restored to its original height after being shortened during her time in Ireland.
Restoration work continues to this day with hard-working volunteers doing what they can, but it is an uphill battle. Despite the generosity of ABP and her former owners, Red Funnel, Calshot's future now rests in the hands of the Heritage Lottery Fund. We can only hope they look favourably on a grant application submitted by the Trust. Without this, Calshot will almost certainly have to be scrapped.
If you think you can help to preserve this unique piece of maritime and transport history, please contact the Tug Tender Calshot Trust.