The Medway Queen The Heroine of Dunkirk

Blogger: GemSen It was lovely to see footage on the local news this week of a WWII ship that helped rescue thousands of soldiers during the Dunkirk evacuations restored and back on the water. Did you see it? Built in 1924, the Medway Queen paddle steamer was originally used to take holidaymakers around Kent. It gained more of a rewarding purpose when the navy commissioned it in 1939 and her first duty was to assist in the evacuation of children from Kent to East Anglia with them embarking at Gravesend.

The Medway Queen of course then went on to help retrieve and evacuate British troops from Normandy in 1940. This humble paddle steamer went on to rescue over 7,000 men with several of her crew being decorated for bravery and the ship also became known as the ‘Heroine of Dunkirk”. It was one of the most famous little ships of World War II. Returning to minesweeping duties after "Operation Dynamo" The Medway Queen was eventually replaced by a purpose built vessel and spent the remainder of the war as a training ship. It was sadly left to rot after this until a 30-year campaign led by the Medway Queen Preservation Society and supported by veterans was fought to save it. Eventually it was rebuilt at Albion Dockyard in Bristol and restoration work began in 2011 thanks to a £1.86m Heritage Lottery Grant. The project has taken two years and the vessel has been constructed in the traditional way with rivets. It left Bristol Docks on Thursday and will initially be towed to Cornwall and then Kent before going on public display. HMS Medway Queen and Operation Dynamo The paddle steamer spent the early part of the 1940s patrolling the Straits of Dover acting as sub-divisional leader and as a look out. On 27th May 1940 the ship received orders to head to beaches of Dunkirk and even then the crew of HMS Medway Queen had no idea of the enormous operation that became known as 'Operation Dynamo'. The Medway Queen left for Dunkirk with the paddle steamers of Sandown, Thames Queen, Gracie Fields, Queen of Thanet, Princess Elizabeth, Laguna Belle and Brighton Belle and were soon met with scenes of waiting soldiers on the beaches and in the water. Lifeboats were used to ferry the soldiers from the beaches to the Medway Queen, which was also under attack at the time it was collecting troops by the aircraft cruiser ‘Calcutta’. Soon full with men, it made it to Dover unscathed, but this was only the first of seven crossings that the Medway Queen made throughout the entire operation. Over 200,000 soldiers were to be saved throughout the nine days of the evacuation. Apparently, the Medway Queen’s good deeds didn’t stop there though and it met an air-raid as it approached Dover Harbour. This was when the paddle steamer claimed her first kill by shooting down one of the enemy aircraft. The Medway Queen’s 12-pounder and Lewis gun were in constant use defending the ship with soldiers and their rifles also helping. The ship was also loaded with Bren guns, which had been recovered from the beaches, so the Medway Queen had a good array of firepower and it had a confirmed record of shooting down three enemy aircraft during the evacuation. While The Medway Queen celebrated a strike during the air-raid more drama unfolded as a neighbouring ship, the Brighton Belle, tore out her bottom on a submerged wreck and began to sink. The Medway Queen went alongside and collected her soldiers and crew and took them to Dover, and saved everyone on board. On the second night of the evacuations the Straits of Dover were very calm so to hide the easy detectable double wake of the paddle steamer from the enemy the Medway Queen's crew devised a system of oily bags lowered over the side to break up the waves. The German army was closing in by the June 3rd and all ships were ordered to leave Dunkirk by 2.30am the following day. Before her final return crossing back to England some heavy shelling in the area caused a destroyer near the Medway Queen to be hit and then knocked into the Medway Queen's starboard paddle box causing extensive damage. With some difficulty the captain slowly got the Medway Queen back to England and despite being one of the first vessels to get to the beaches she was one of the last to leave on June 4th 1940. Upon her return to Dover Harbour and Vice Admiral Ramsey is believed to have said: "Well Done Medway Queen" accompanied by the sound of the sirens from all the ships in Dover Harbour. Without the Little Ships like the Medway Queen and their crews so many more lives would have been lost – we should never forget them. Source: & BBC Was anyone in your family a soldier during WWII? Do they have any stories about Dunkirk? On Remembrance Day will you take time to think about the brave men who helped Britain fight during the Second World War? Maybe a member of your family was involved in war and you just don't know about it yet. Let us help you with your family history research, visit the Forces War Records website and search our wealth of records including those from World War II.
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