IT iS almost 75 years since these small wooden boats made the heroic journey across the English Channel to rescue more than 338,000 British soldiers trapped on the beaches in northern France during the Second World War.
And yesterday, a fleet of Dunkirk “Little Ships” started to retrace their steps which, in 1940, saw them take part in the evacuation of troops from Dunkirk.
The group of 19 vessels left the Royal Victoria Dock in east London to cross the Channel to help mark this historic episode which gave rise to the phrase “the Dunkirk Spirit” – now a commonplace phrase to describe the tendency of the British public to pull together and overcome times of adversity,
Ian Gilbert, commodore of the Association of Dunkirk Little Ships, said there was huge pride in being involved in the event, which marks the 75th anniversary of the great rescue, dubbed Operation Dynamo.
He said that the boats were part of “the great response of the British naval tradition in 1940”.
Mr Gilbert said: “As we go further away from 1940 the Little Ships become the sole living reminder of Operation Dynamo which resulted in the phrase ‘the Dunkirk spirit’. The Little Ships represent that and there are very few veterans left who can tell that story, but the ships help with that. I think it gives us all a sense of pride and purpose.”
The Little Ships give us all a sense of pride and purposeIan Gilbert
All the boats are British-made, average around 80 years old and were built in an area that marked the “zenith of boat building”, according to Mr Gilbert. He added that it was “a wonderful privilege” to own and sail on the boats which were part of something “so unique and important”.
Yesterday the grandson of a soldier who was rescued by one of the wooden boats at Dunkirk in 1940 hailed the vessels’ “massive” role in shaping British history.
Joe Radmore, 35, who was originally from Devon and now lives in London, owns the Silver Queen ship, one of the Dunkirk Little Ships, having bought it about six years ago.
His grandfather, Barry Wareham, who died a couple of years ago aged 90, was rescued by one of the boats 75 years ago.
Mr Radmore, who is taking his boat across to Dunkirk this week, said: “If it wasn’t for these Little Ships the liberties which we feel we have in the UK now, we would not have.”
Describing his grandfather as “a very great man, he said: “I bought the Silver Queen, being a Dunkirk Little Ship, because my grandfather was one of the soldiers rescued in 1940, then he won the military medal for fighting in the rearguard.
“He was lucky because about 70,000 of the soldiers who were fighting in the rearguard never came back.”