Talking it to Graham Williams

"Tom Williams was my dad. He started out as an engineer on the Dartmouth Castle, then became the foreman and in the end he managed it. He was what's called the ship's husband.

In the centenary of Agatha Christie's birth I was involved in doing a whodunnit trail around here. She had an evacuee down from London to live in her house at Greenway. She was out one day rowing from Greenway to Dittisham when a German aircraft that had come to bomb the college turned around, flew back up the Dart and fired bullets at them.

There is an old poster that tells you how much it costs to carry a cow, a sheep, and a pig from Dittisham Pier up and down the river.

My father felt that Compton and Totnes should have been scrapped. He saw it once in Truro and was horrified.

When it came to the Kingswear, Evans and Reid actually wanted to scrap her but he thought she should be preserved because she was the last one. I think they sold it to the Preservation Society for £150, but he would have been amazed to know they got it to work.

In Barratt Steer’s day they used to tie two boats up when they were loading side-by-side. They would keep them roped together until they got out into the river to go up to Totnes. On one occasion the two individual skippers thought it was important that they lead the convoy. Neither would yield so they continued up beyond the Higher Ferry roped together. In the end they had to cut the rope because neither would give in.

One engineer was an old guy with the strangest maddest looking blue eyes you could imagine, a sort of aqua blue with little black bits right in the middle; very piercing. This guy wasn't very tall but he was very wily. He spent all his time in the hot engine room shovelling coal. He did it all his life.

They could be cantankerous old farts, but these guys were proud, some with several generations working on the paddlers.

I worked on Kingswear and saw them nurture their boats and look after them with a level of pride which doesn't exist today."