In late May 1940 the British Expeditionary Force was trapped at Dunkirk. Alongside thousands of troops from the French and Belgian armies too. As the frontlines moved closer to the coast and the Allied troops fell back, the British government took the decision to evacuate as many troops as possible. Aiming for 40,000 over 3 days they ended up evacuating 338,000 over 9 days.
The vast majority were rescued by the Royal Navy. But in order to get troops to ships offshore, the government requisitioned and called for hundreds of inshore vessels and pleasure craft. These vessels had shallower draughts and could take troops straight from the beaches into naval vessels waiting offshore. Hundreds answered the call with volunteer crews and many with naval crews too. From fishing boats and Thames Sailing Barges to Lifeboats and motor yachts, they became known as the Dunkirk Little Ships.
With many veterans of the evacuation no longer with us, it is these vessels that are the last reminder we have of the extraordinary story of the Dunkirk Evacuation. Which form the centre of commemoration events every year.
On the 26th of May this year the Association of Dunkirk Little Ships start their annual commemorative meeting. Commemorating their part and the wider story of the Dunkirk Evacuation or Operation Dynamo that began on 26th May 1940 until the 3rd June 1940. 80 years since they made the voyage across the Channel many are still on the water. With many making the journey back to Dunkirk every five years as part of the commemorations. The 80th anniversary has, due to ongoing Coronavirus crisis, unfortunately been postponed.
Back in 2018, Ipswich was lucky to have had a visit by the Association of Dunkirk Little Ships. Where we interviewed several of the current custodians of the little vessels, so please watch and enjoy our video interviews.
Two Dunkirk Little Ships currently reside in Ipswich. The Trimilia (formerly known as Prudential, a RNLI Lifeboat) is permanent reminder of Dunkirk when you walk along the waterfront. She saved 330 in her life as a lifeboat and about 2800 troops from Dunkirk. You can usually spot her opposite the Old Customs House. The other vessel is the Motor Yacht Glala which is currently undergoing repair and restoration. Last year we visited Glala, and interviewed Andrew about Glala’s Dunkirk Story, so do check out this interview too.
These vessels are registered as historic vessels and are important heritage treasures that are carefully and wonderfully looked after and restored. We cannot wait to welcome the Association of Dunkirk Little Ships back to Ipswich again as well as many more historic vessels.