It wasn't quite how I remembered it.......

By Andy Gilbert

Back in the Winter of 1963/64, Newhaven was gearing itself up for the introduction of the new car ferry service that would start in the Summer of 1964. I clearly remember my Dad meeting me from Southdown School one cold Tuesday afternoon and taking me down Gibbon Road to the harbour on the back of his Lambretta scooter. The date was the 18th February 1964, and he told me he had something important to show me.

That something was the first vessel to moor at Newhaven's new car ferry berth, the French Compiegne, of 1958. She'd actually visited the port once before, in 1959, and John Hills has posted a photo of her then. However, back in 1959, the idea of a Newhaven-Dieppe car ferry service hadn't even been considered. (In fact, if you look in the archives at Newhaven Museum you can see some of the arguments for and against that were still being made in the early 1960's). As for her 1964 arrival, I sadly didn't take a photo that day, but I don't think my little Kodak 'Instamatic 25' would have taken a photo in the gloom of the late afternoon.

So, for well over 40 years, I naturally assumed that Compiegne was the first car ferry to use the ramp, after all I'd seen her do it...or had I?

Browsing through those Museum archives a while ago, I was very surprised to make an interesting discovery from February 1964. Yes, Compiegne came in on the 18th (worryingly fast, according to the 'Harbour Jottings' report in the Sussex Express of that week) but, although she moored up in the berth, she didn't actually use the link span ramp, as it hadn't yet been completed, as you can clearly see in the photo! So, the hunt was on for the identity of the first ship to do so, and I thought the best bet was to carry on looking at the Museum! This duly paid off, as I subsequently found the exact proof I needed.

A few weeks later in 1964, on the 9th April to be precise, it was in fact one of British Railways' two 'new' car ferries, the 17 year-old converted passenger steamer Normannia, that did the honours, well before the maiden arrival of our own Falaise in late May. My memory is now corrected!

It was also interesting to find out that, even at this stage, it was being reported that Newhaven-Dieppe would be served by just two car ferries, Falaise and Villandry, along with two passenger steamers (presumably Brighton and Lisieux) with two of the Dieppe 'screws', Rennes, Brest and Nantes carrying on their roles as cargo ships. That was very soon changed to just three car ferries, of course, with Valencay being the third member of the Newhaven trio, and the other ships all headed off to new careers in Greek waters, except for Brighton. She first went to Antwerp for conversion to a car-carrying ferry, and then ran to Jersey for a brief spell. She was fast, ideal for the longer Channel Islands route, but consumed too much fuel to be economical and indeed bankrupted her Jersey owners, so then sadly soon made her final journey to the scrapyard.

My usual thanks to Peter Bailey and Newhaven Museum for permission to post and share these Sussex Express and Argus photos with you.

Update: 14.09.09

I was amazed to learn that Compiegne is still afloat and in use, long after the demise of all her running mates! After a while in Greek waters as Ionian Glory, she was renamed Al Ameerah and painted bright green, ready for use on the Red Sea. Things fell through and, after a repaint and more changes of ownership, she's been laid up in Alexandria harbour in Egypt for many years. She's still being used as an accomodation ship for harbour workers.

Photo:Compiegne enters at a rate of knots!

Compiegne enters at a rate of knots!

Courtesy of Sussex Express

Photo:Compiegne doesn't quite get there...

Compiegne doesn't quite get there...

Courtesy of Evening Argus

Photo:...but Normannia does!

...but Normannia does!

Courtesy of Evening Argus

Photo:Compiegne as Al Ameerah at Alexandria, August 2009.

Compiegne as Al Ameerah at Alexandria, August 2009.

Kind permission of 'timo' at Ships Nostalgia

This page was added by Andy Gilbert on 15/09/2009.

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