In 1906 two new ferryboats came into service, the "Iris" and the "Daffodil". Little did anyone realise that these two boats would be remembered more than any other vessels. They were twin-screw steamers, capable of handling 1,735 passengers each. They were built on the Tyne by Robert Stevenson and Company and towed to the Mersey for engines to be fitted by D. Rollo and Sons. They had a single funnel and mast with three separate saloons on deck. The navigation boxes were now on a flying bridge. The "Iris" was 491 tons, while the "Daffodil" was 482 tons. Both were 159 feet in length.
When their Majesties, King George V and Queen Mary came to Wallasey to lay the foundation stone of the Town Hall on 15 March, 1914, the boarded the "Iris" to cross the Mersey. As soon as they were aboard, the Royal Standard broke from the masthead. The boat was decorated with flowers and all was spic and span. They were landed at Seacombe Stage.
Picture of the Royal Daffodil at New Brighton Landing Stage
Both these boats were "called-up" in the First World War. They were to be used on the first commando raid on Zeebrugge, the Belgian port, because of their double hulls and drawing only eight foot six inches of water, they could sail over the minefields. They were painted grey, armour plating was added, so was H.M.S. before their names. The Royal Navy manned them.
The attack on the Harbour was to stop the German submarines using Bruges as a base. It was connected to the harbour by means of ship canals. The Commander of Operations was Vice Admiral Roger Keys and all those taking part in the raid were volunteers. The raid took place on the night of St. George's Day, 23rd April 1918.
Three old cruisers were filled with concrete so that blasting could not move them and these were to be sunk so as to stop the passageway into the harbour. Along with the "Iris" and "Daffodil", went the cruiser "Vindictive", under the command of Commander A.F.B. Carpenter.
On the night of the attack they came to the Mole and the cruiser let go her anchor, but this did not hold. The "Daffodil's" captain was wounded but stayed on the bridge. The cruiser was now in a position to lower the gangways and the landing-party raced over. The ferryboat pushed at full speed to hold the "Vindictive" in position. The "Daffodil's" boiler-room began to flood, due to the holing of the hull.
The "Iris" under the command of Commander Henderson, was endeavouring to land marines, but the scaling ladders fell away, so it was decided to land them by way of the cruiser. By the time the "Iris" had come alongside, the "Daffodil" sounded the retirement indicating that the operation had been completed. The "Iris" was told to cast off and head for home with her troops still on board.
Meanwhile, the enemy's guns had opened up and the "Iris" suffered much damage. The bridge was wrecked on one side and the boat went off course, as men fell like ninepins. A few seconds later, another shell went right though the upper deck and exploded amongst the marines, killing 49 of them and severely wounding a further seven. Four officers and 26 men were killed when another shell hit the sickbay.
The "Iris" steamed on. Lieutenant Spencer, the Navigating Officer, made his way to the wheel. With blood streaming from a wound, he managed to swing the wheel hard over and the "Iris" turned on course. Another British ship appeared on the scene and came between her and the enemy guns. At last the ferryboat managed to get the smoke screen into action but the Germans still had her in range and further shells found their mark.
In the meantime, her sister ship "Daffodil" had been taken in tow and managed to reach Dover without too much damage.
The "Iris" managed to make her way back under her own steam, with a fire ablaze under the bridge and water in the engine-room, flooding compartments.
188 Officers and men had been killed and 16 reported missing. Lt. Colonel L. H. Colwill gave the White Ensign, which had been thrown from the masthead of the "Daffodil" to the Ferries Department and it used to be displayed at the vestibule of Seacombe Ferry.
The town presented Lt. Harold Campbell and Lt. W. Stanfield with inscribed gold cigarette cases. The carried the Town's Coat of Arms. This was in recognition of their returning the ferryboats safely home again.
The "Iris" and "Daffodil" returned to the Mersey on 17th May 1918. The ships in the river sounded their whistles as they entered the river. Local re4sidents went down to the promenade as the boats anchored at New Brighton. Wallasey was glad to see them home again. The Mayor and Mayoress of Wallasey, Alderman and Mrs F. F. Scott received the men. The only officer to survive the action on board the "Iris" was Lieutenant Stanfield. He presented the Mayoress with a bunch of flowers made up of Irises and Daffodils.
The ferryboats were berthed in Canning Dock in Liverpool and hundreds of people gathered to see the damage to the vessels.
The two boats were reconditioned and were allowed to use the prefix "Royal" in front of their names in recognition of their gallant action. Both vessels re-entered service as ferryboats, after being repaired at Chatham.
Admiral and Lady Beaty came to Liverpool and sailed on the "Royal Daffodil" to New Brighton. The Boat hen berthed next to the "Royal Iris". The purpose of the visit was to unveil the Zeebrugge bronzes on the ferryboats. On these plates were the names of those men who had died in action in the raid. There was one that commemorated the bravery of Commander Valentine Gibbs of the Royal Navy, who commanded the "Royal Iris", as he "lay mortally wounded, fighting and directing his ship to the last, whilst under the enemy's fire, upholding in his noble death the glorious traditions of the Great Service to which he belonged".
The Medway Steam Packet Company purchased the "Royal Daffodil" in October 1933. With flags flying from her mast, she steamed down the Mersey, as a few officials gathered at the Seacombe stage and waved farewell. She took up duties on the Thames and eventually was sold for scrap.
The "Royal Iris" was sold in October 1931 to Palmer Brothers for £6000. She was used as a cruise boat operating from Dublin under the same name. She was later used at Cork. In 1947 she was renamed "Blarney" having been purchased by Cork Harbour Authorities.
The Annual Zeebrugge service takes place on one of the ferryboats on the Sunday nearest to St. George's Day. The Merseyside Branch of the Royal Marines Association arrange the ceremony, when wreaths are cast on the waters of the Mersey. The Last Post and Reveille are played in memory of the fallen.
Taken From "Almost an Island - The Story of Wallasey" by Noël E Smith.