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Dedicated to the 6,000 men who served in Motor Launches

mostly British, but also from the then Empire, including Canadians Lt Rowland Bourke VC, Lt Russell Keith Odell of Ottawa, Lt John Dresser of Montreal, Lt George Cassady of Vancouver, Lt McCrimmon of Toronto

Lt John R Hunter RNVR from a newspaper cutting

 on to Part 2



In Memory of John R Hunter 1892-1971, later Captain, OBE, RCNVR


For further information on the life and career of John R Hunter, you can contact his son Andy Hunter MD of Ontario, Canada.


The only Copyright to these images belongs to A T Hunter MD




Original comments by Lt John R Hunter
Additional comments by his son Andy Hunter

Further notes by Gordon Smith





by Gordon Smith


For some time now, I have been interested in the 580 motor launches built by ELCO - the Electric Launch Company, then at Bayonne, New Jersey for the Royal Navy in World War 1. I collected together the limited published information that was available, listed all the ML's, annotated where possible and published them on


I was then contacted by Andy Hunter MD of Ontario, Canada who informed me his father had served on ML.81. Andy subsequently sent me more information about his father, himself - he also served in the RCN - and 32 photographs of ML's and their crews that had never been published before.


The detailed story of these ML's, the men who served on them, and the many feats they accomplished in a sea war just as deadly as World War 2 deserves to be told. In the meantime, I hope this story of Lt John Hunter, together with the first, albeit very incomplete listing of all the ML's - British US-built Elco Motor Launches of World War 1 - might encourage others to go on from here.


The Elco ML (both the 75 and 80 foot versions) design was purely American. The chief naval architect was Irwin Chase and his assistant Glenville Tremaine. More about their conception and design can be found at



The notes that follow have been extracted from the emails Andy Hunter sent me about his father:


"John Hunter was one of perhaps a dozen or so Canadians who were recruited in 1915 or 1916 to serve as RNVR officers aboard MLs - there was no Canadian RNVR in WW1. His sole qualification for such a role was that he was an avid canoeist and a member of a canoe club in Toronto, Ontario! These young men were given a crash course lasting only a few weeks at the Naval College in Greenwich. There were some Americans and some New Zealanders in the group. There may have been some South Africans as well.


"As the USA was neutral, orders for the ML's were placed by Canadian Vickers, the parts collected at Bayonne, New Jersey, and carried by rail to Montreal for assembly. For example, frames were cut and bent in Bayonne and joined together in Canada. The completed boats, less the armament which was believed mounted in Britain, were then shipped across the Atlantic as deck cargo, up to four ML's per steamship.


"One of these Canadians was Lt Roland Burke RNVR, awarded the VC for his exploits in ML.276 at Ostend in May 1918. Apart from John Hunter, another was Maurice Shea" (see story at top of right column)







Extract from Contemporary Account  (below) - "Lieut.-Commander Rowland Bourke, V.C., D.S.O., R.N.V.R., was residing in Nelson, B.C.. when he enlisted in the R.N.V.R. in 1916. He was present at the blocking of Ostend Harbour, where he received his decoration for his heroic work in helping to rescue the crew of H.M.S. "Vindictive" prior to her being sunk in the fairway of the harbour. After having once left the "Vindictive" word was received by him that there remained still on board some of the crew who failed to make their get-away, and he called for a volunteer crew, returned, shot the searchlight on the head of the Mole and went in again in confusion and darkness. He ran along the sunken "Vindictive" and picked up the survivors and brought them out successfully. When his boat came out from Ostend she had 57 shell-holes.
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"Lieut. John R. Hunter (also pictured right), only son of Mrs. F. E. Hunter and the late J. D. Hunter, of Toronto, was a salesman on the staff of the Harris Abattoir Company prior to receiving his commission in the R.N.V.R. He went to England in 1916 and after further training was attached to the Motor Patrol Service. He served some months in the North Sea and was later commander of a motor launch on the Channel. He took an active interest in athletics.

"Lieut. Maurice P. Shea, a resident of Montreal, was the first man to enlist in Canada in the R.N.V.R. He spent two years in mine-sweeping and patrol work, and had many trying experiences while afloat."

Click on all following images for large version


If you can identify any of the ports or coastline, please email Gordon Smith

No.1 - "An ML on the St Lawrence downstream from Montreal"



No.2 - "Alongside Hermione".

Photograph presumably taken from deck of HMS Hermione, Astraea-class 2nd-class cruiser, 4,360t, launched 1893. From August 1914 - Southampton guardship; from December 1916-1919 - HQ-ship for ML's and CMB's (coastal motor boats - MTB's) still based at Southampton


No.3 - "Duncan R Boyd, Glasgow", Lieutenant RNVR.

Andy Hunter - "I would assume that Duncan R. Boyd was an officer in the same flotilla as my father". Appears to be armed with the original ex-Army 3-inch calibre, 13-pounder gun


No.4 - "M.L.81 and the only two skippers she had during the war".

Andy Hunter - last skipper was Lt Hugh Hunter RNVR (no relation), John Hunter was his second-in-command. ML81 served mainly in the North Sea


ML.81's commanding officer was Lt Hugh Hunter RNVR believed to be English or Scottish; Canadian Lt John R Hunter RNVR - no relation - was his second-in-command.

In early 1917, ML.81 was damaged by a petrol fire probably at Aberdeen, Scotland but possibly at Peterhead. John Hunter narrowly escaped with his life in the fire and was ever afterward terrified of fires.


No.5 - Andy Hunter - "But look at the gun mounting."




No.7 - ML83, "Hardy sinks a mine with a rifle"


No.8 - "83 sights another mine"


No.9 - "The bunk"


No.10 - "Forward to the galley"


No.11 - "Norwegian patrol 240 miles to the other side"


No.12 - ML81. "Pompey here we come. Reporting at the outer Fort Portsmouth. The commander must have liked our looks. He sent for the skipper after and gave him this snapshot"


No.13 - ML191?


No.14 - "Broken prop. We get a tow"


No.15 - "Auxiliary engine"


No.16 - "482 Jack Dresser's ship".

Andy Hunter - "Jack Dresser married my Aunt Georgie. They had no children. He had a Cadillac agency in Montreal in the 30's."


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revised 08/04/09