IN this week in 1946, the paddle steamer Waverley was launched on the Clyde. She is now the last passenger-carrying ocean-going paddle steamer in the world, but the much-loved ship is in a bad way, needing a new boiler and missing the whole sailing season of 2019, which is why I am writing about her today.

There is an appeal to fund her re-boilering and I hope to convince readers why this appeal should be supported to save the Waverley.

The first thing to note is that the current vessel was not the first PS Waverley. That first Waverley was built in 1899 by A & J Inglis at the Pointhouse shipyard on north bank of the River Clyde as the flagship of the North British Steam Packet Company.

Designed to trade in the “doon the watter” Firth of Clyde excursion business, the first Waverley was in service for 40 years until 1939. She had just been taken out of service when, as in the First World War, she was requisitioned by the Admiralty for service as a minesweeper.

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On May 29, 1940, the Waverley was evacuating 800 soldiers from Dunkirk when she was attacked by 12 German Heinkel bombers.

Captain John Cameron managed to zig-zag and avoid their bombs, but eventually one bomb damaged her rudder and the Waverley was left as a sitting target, sinking quickly after one bomb blew a hole in her side.

More than 460 troops and crewmen were rescued from the water, including John Cameron, but the rest drowned. The wreck lies at the bottom of the English Channel and divers have reported that her paddles are surprisingly intact.

Cameron had resisted the removal of seats from the Waverley as demanded by the Admiral, because the seats housed the vessel’s life rafts – it was one of those rafts which saved the lives of Cameron and many others.

After the war it was decided by her owners, the London and North Easter Railway (LNER), to build a new paddle steamer, which of course they called the Waverley.

It was again the yard of A & J Inglis at Pointhouse which built the replacement Waverley – the site is now occupied by the Riverside Museum, Glasgow’s famed Museum of Transport. The man appointed by LNER to oversee her construction was none other than Captain John Cameron. The new PS Waverley was launched on October 2, 1946, and had her maiden voyage the following year with Captain Cameron in command. He recalled in a later interview: “In June 1947, the Waverley was completed and ready for service, and I was a very proud man when I took her out on her maiden voyage to renew the pleasure sailings.”

Those initial voyages were between Craigendoran near Helensburgh and Arrochar on Loch Long, and the 240ft-long, 700-tons Waverley could carry 900 passengers at a time.

Cameron was soon captaining other ships as the Waverley became a leading member of the paddle steamer fleet. Over the next three decades she carried tens of thousands of passengers on the Clyde and in the sea lochs of the west coast, and it says much for her builders that she was rarely out of service for mechanical repairs.

Technically owned by the state after the railways were nationalised in 1948, the Clyde Shipping Services – later renamed the Caledonian Steam Packet Co – was set up to manage the Waverley and other steamers on the Clyde.

Though still hugely popular in the 1960s and an integral part of life in Scotland, the Clyde excursions were facing competition from package holidays abroad, and the steamer fleet declined.

When Caledonian merged with David MacBrayne Ltd to form Caledonian MacBrayne in 1973, a review of the fleet found that the Waverley needed a colossal refit, and CalMac said it could not afford it.

The Paddle Steamer Preservation Society (PSPS) had been formed to try to rescue some of the redundant craft and PS Waverley became by far its biggest project.

A public appeal was successfully undertaken to have Waverley re-fitted and restored to her original 1947 state, though over the subsequent years many additions to meet modern safety standards were carried out.

Waverley began life on the Clyde and was intended only for the river and its Firth, but after the restoration process, the Waverley Excursion division of the PSPS decided to take her around the coasts of Britain, where her visits proved popular. Over the years she visited the likes of Liverpool and the south coast of England, with passenger excursions on the Thames and Bristol Channel as well as her home river.

Having become the last sea-going passenger-carrying paddle steamer in the world, she continued an annual programme of excursions until 2000, when Waverley was laid up in Prior’s shipyard in Great Yarmouth.

Largely funded by the National Lottery, a complete re-fit of the Waverley extended her working life again, but now her boilers need replaced.

The Grand Old Lady of the Clyde may be 73, but she is surely capable of going on for some years yet as a living reminder of Scottish culture and heritage.