The ferries plying their trade on the River Mersey received a rare honour from King George V in April 1918.
The steamers Iris and Daffodil were awarded the title ‘Royal’ in recognition of their wartime service.
Both sailed far from Wallasey to be used as troop ships in the naval raid on the Belgian port of Zeebrugge.
Their shallow drafts meant they could skim over mines floating beneath the surface to reach the mole or breakwater jutting out into the North Sea.
The well-built ferries were also tough enough to withstand enemy fire, enabling them to remain alongside the mole for more than an hour.
Vice-Admiral Sir Roger Keyes praised the ‘two stout vessels’ that carried Bluejackets and Marines to Zeebrugge, saying they greatly contributed to the success of the operation.
The ferries were badly damaged but returned to a heroes’ welcome on Merseyside. They were both back in service after extensive repairs.
The Iris and Daffodil, built in 1906, were the forerunners of today’s modern ferries. They had flying bridges with port and starboard docking cabs as well as ahead and astern reciprocating engines.
Each could achieve a speed of 12 knots – roughly the same as today’s Mersey ferries.
The ‘Royal’ title was retained by the ferries that replaced the original Iris and Daffodil. These included the Royal Daffodil II which entered service in 1958.
Designed for the dual role of ferrying and cruising, the 609-ton ship was called Royal Daffodil II to differentiate it from the Thames estuary cruise ship of the same name.
The Royal Daffodil II was involved in a few scrapes during its years of service. It ran aground on a sandbank in thick fog in September 1967 and collided with two barges in January 1968.
Our photos show the stricken ship taking in water after the collision and the repairs to her damaged bow in dry dock at the Cammell Laird shipyard.
The most celebrated ‘Royal’ ferry was probably the sleek, new Royal Iris which entered service in 1951. The first diesel-powered vessel of the Wallasey fleet, the ship had attractive, smooth lines and even a dummy funnel.
The Royal Iris hosted hundreds of party cruises. Bands queued up to play on her, including the Beatles, Gerry and the Pacemakers and the Searchers.
A rich diversity of acts appeared on board. All-night Beat Boat parties contrasted with concerts given by the more sedate, and bewigged, Liverpool Chamber Music group.
The Royal Iris earned her familiar title – ‘the fish and chip boat’ – from the favourite dish served on the popular onboard café. It was turned into a steak bar in a 1970s refit.
In 1990, the Royal Iris linked up with Cunard ‘Royalty’ when she met the liner QE2 on the Mersey. Our photo shows Iris Captain Tony Murphy, right, and First Mate Robbie Quinn on the bridge.
An excellent view of the majestic cruise liner was glimpsed through the cable channel in the ferry’s bow.
After nearly 40 years on the Mersey, the Royal Iris was sold in 1993 to be converted into a floating nightclub in Cardiff.
Unfortunately, the plans never came to fruition and the ship was towed to a berth on the River Thames near Woolwich in 2002.
She’s still there now, wedged on a mudbank with the passenger deck half submerged – a sad reminder of much happier times.