"A miracle of deliverance" is how Winston Churchill described the evacuation of British and French troops from the beaches of Dunkirk between 26 May and 4 June 1940. More than 330,000 men were stranded, driven back to the coast by the advancing German army. Admiral Sir Bertram Ramsay masterminded Operation Dynamo, a plan to rescue as many men as possible.
A fleet of cargo ships, passenger ferries, barges and coasters was assembled at Dover and Southampton, with Royal Navy minesweepers, corvettes and destroyers for protection. However, the shallow slope of the beaches of Dunkirk prevented the ships from getting close to the shore, so smaller craft would be needed to ferry the soldiers from the beaches out to the ships waiting a mile off shore. 800 pleasure boats, lifeboats, Thames barges, tugs and fishing boats set off with volunteer crews, many of whom had never sailed outside coastal waters. Under attack from German fighter planes and bombers, dodging mines and submarines and under fire from coastal defences, they picked up soldiers from the beaches, took them to the waiting ships and went back for more.
The 70th anniversary is being commemorated by a smaller fleet of small boats making that same journey under very different circumstances. Many of them took part in Operation Dynamo and have been proudly restored for this occasion. Sometimes I am very proud to be British!