The Canoes used in WW2

a compilation from the collection of James Dalgety


In the early 1950s we had a 5 acre lake near our house and, as children, we were always playing on it in what, apart from all the very sharp edges, nuts & bolts, fins etc., must have been one of the safest of boats.
It was, I believe, the Prototype #1 aluminium canoe.

The family always referred to it as "The Warwick Canoe"..

Myself and terrier in the Warwick Canoe around 1954.

My father, Christopher T.Dalgety had been an ornithologist and explorer in the Arctic in the 1920s and 1930s, and amongst other souvenirs he had an Eskimo kayak. At one stage during the war he was designing small boats for commando raids. My mother remembered having to take the kajak up to the Admiralty in London behind her car on a punt trailer. In the course of the war his kayak was destroyed or lost by the Navy; and so after the war he asked for, and was given, the spun aluminum prototype made by Warwick aviation.

As was usual with people involved in such operations, my father hardly ever spoke of what he had done in WW2. From a small collection of papers that I have, I believe that his wartime career went approximately as follows:-

2 March 1940 148 company RASC. 2nd Lieut
2 Sept 1941 Lieut
1 March 1942 Acting Captain
7 Oct 1942 reverted to facilitate transfer to RNVR
6 Dec 1942 relinquished Army commission
7 Dec 1942 RNVR
6/12/42 Started work with 14 Commando
30/3/1943 Terminated work with 14 Commando
19/7/1943 – 16/4/45 HMS Quebec (+COPP)
16/4/45-20/4/45 HMS Copra
20/4/45 HMS President till 1946 when he left the Navy.

The canoe in which I played as a small child in the 1950s in Hertfordshire, moved with the family to Hampshire and around 1960 the rivets had become very loose. My brother Freddie and I replaced all of the Aluminium rivets. I remember this very well as, being the smallest, I had to worm my way into the end sections to hold a big hammer while my brother hammered away on the outside – It was extremely uncomfortable and extremely noisy. After we had painted it dark green, it had a new lease of life on the Solent.

On one occasion it was the only craft under the size of the car ferry to cross from the Isle of Wight to Lymington in a force-8 gale. Designed for two, on another occasion, it made the crossing with three people on board: one steering, one holding the sail, and one baling non-stop. A feat probably only possible with the bottle of good whisky that was circulated amongst the crew.

My brother had used it around Lymington and occasionally attached a small outboard motor to one of the outrigger arms. This little engine vibrated so much that the rivets started to loosen again. In the 1980s I had the craft with me at another house in Hampshire where there was a half-acre lake and my young son also enjoyed playing with it for a while. Eventually the rivets worked so loose that it could no longer make the journey from one side of the lake to the other without sinking, so we decided to part with it. In about 1984 I sold it to Gerry Lockyer, who had a year or two earlier renacted the epic "Cockleshell Heroes" journey in aid of Cancer Research with Bill Sparks who was then aged 61. Sadly I lost contact with Gerry Lockyer; so if you are he, or know his whereabouts, then please get in touch.

In the 1990s a friend was visiting the Royal Navy's Submarine Museum in Portsmouth and saw one of the "Warwick Canoes" which had rather gratifyingly been labeled as "The Dalgety Canoe". Due to the overwhelming influence of the film "The Cockleshell Heroes" based on Bill Sparks' book, the canoes have now aquired the generic name of "Cockles".

James Dalgety

Click thumbnails for larger images of photos taken around 1984, when I sold them, of the Warwick Canoe and another Canoe - apparently the for-runner of today's semi-rigid inlatable boats.

: - - :

I am slowly collating papers and hope to put together some more detailed history in future, meanwhile here are some of the photographs, cartoons, and articles.

I would appreciate receiving copies of the final versions of the articles if anyone discovers where and when they were published.

Link to galley proofs of post war article

Link to proofs of a post war article for Light Alloys

Link to some photographs of canoes and cartoons.

Photos of a Model of one canoe

PDF about Inuit model Kajak.

Copyright (c)2005 James Dalgety (updated April 2013)

Back to CTD