Friday, 6 May 2011

RMS St Julien

This is the Steam Ship that my grandfather, Charlie "Skin"  Pavey worked on. The SS St Julien was one of a pair of steam ships built by John Brown of Clydebank for the Great Western Railway's Weymouth to Channel Islands services. She was launched on the Clyde in Feb 1925. Her sister ship was the St Helier.

GWRSS St Julien just after launch with dummy funnel still in place.
St Julien was originally delivered with two funnels, but the second was in fact a dummy which was removed in 1928.  When war broke out in 1939 she was put to use ferrying troops but very quickly converted into a Hospital Carrier. She took part in the evacuation of British troops from Dunkirk, Boulogne and Cherbourg in 1940. On May 29th 1940, during the Dunkirk operation, St Julien was deliberately bombed by the Luftwaffe for a considerable period of time. Although she never recieved a direct hit, she was damaged by shrapnel from numerous near misses, it was during this raid that my grandfather was hit in the chest by flying debris resulting in the loss of one lung. St Julien remained just off Dunkirk for half an hour waiting for an opportunity to land, but when the air attacks started again she sailed back to Dover with her injured crew before returning to Dunkirk next morning to pick up another 287 casualties.
RMS St Julien with dummy funnel removed.
As an aside, my family lived on Jersey during World War II. Charlie was recovering at home when the Germans began their invasion of the Channel Islands. He quickly arranged for his wife and children to get on one of the last ships to leave the Island before the German forces landed, but he couldn't find his youngest son David (my father). Eventually he was found on the beach watching all the activity. My Uncle Dennis grabbed him and dragged him back home. They made their way to the harbour in St Helier with only the clothes he was wearing and a bag that my Gran had packed for him.

Grandad Charlie contracted TB whilst he was recovering and was unable to return to the ship, but the St Julien spent the remainder of World War II as a hospital carrier and saw service in the Mediterranean as well as the D-Day Landings in 1944 where she pressed into service for the US Navy. She was damaged by a mine on June 7th and had to be towed back to England with her bows well down in the water. Less than three weeks later she was back in service in Normandy assisting with American casualties at Arrowmanches.
HM Hospital Carrier St Julien clearing casualties from Arrowmanches in July 1944

SS St Julien in St Helier Harbour, Jersey 1955.
In 1946 St Julien was returned to the GWR at Weymouth and was passed on to British Railways on 1st January 1948 when GWR became part of the British Transport Commision (British Railways). St Julien made her last Channel Islands crossing on 27th september 1960 when the two sister ships were replaced by the new SS Caesarea and SS Sarnia. She was scrapped the following year and sold to Van Heyghen Freres, Ghent  in March 1961. She was last heard of being used by Dockyard workers at Walcheren in late 1963.
St Julien with windows plated up on the sides of the main deck and a white forecastle.

Propulsion: 4 Parsons steam turbines SRG two shafts 18kn 4350bhp

Ship Type: Passenger Vessel

Ship's Role: Channel Island ferry

Tonnage: 1885gross tons.

Length: 282.2 feet

Breadth: 40 feet

Draught: 13 feet

Owner History:
Great Western Railway Co, London; 1925-1939 and 1946-1948
British Railways Southern Region; 1948-1961


  1. Thank you for your blog on the SS St Julian as it has finally filled in some background information on a childhood gift.

    One year during my childhood, my bother and I were given second hand Christmas presents an Aunt & Uncle. We didn't complain as we were very close to our Aunt and saw her regularly. As a consequence, we were aware that she and her husband were having financial difficulties and so couldn't afford new gifts.

    Of the assortment of gifts, the only one I can remember was a rather plain thick grey cardboard box, slightly smaller than a ream of A4 paper with a tiny faded B&W image of a two funnelled passenger ship. It was in fact a wooden puzzle of the SS St Julian and it fascinated me not only becasue of my pre-existing love of liners, but also because it was the first jigsaw puzzle whose outside edge followed the silhouette of the ship.

    Some 30 years on, I still have the puzzle, and i love it now more than ever. Your mention of the removal of her second funnel also allows me to date the jigsaw to the first three years of her career.

    What a shame she appears to have be scrapped just as the preservation movement was being kick started by the destruction of the Euston Arch in 1963.

    Phil - London - March 2012

  2. What an excellent response Phil - My Uncle had that jigsaw puzzle too. My grandad worked the ship for a good few years in and out of Weymouth and Jersey. My parents used the ship whenever they visited relatives in the Islands during the 50s too. She was a grand old servant indeed. Thanks for your comments and glad it helped jog some memories for you.

  3. Hi
    I am doing research into my grandfathers war records and found that he also served on the St Julien. Your info is really helpful so thankyou very much for that. If you have any more info i would be very pleased if we could discuss. I live near Rugeley 07973668390


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Whitehaven, Cumbria, United Kingdom
Disenchanted City Boy who rode out of the fast lane and into the back lanes! Life on Two Wheels is so much fun.