From lifeboats to red carpets - RNLI crew attend film premiere of 'Dunkirk'
RNLI volunteers are used to dealing with unusual situations – but Ramsgate Coxswain Ian Cannon and crew-member daughter Becky didn’t expect to find themselves walking the red carpet for the world premiere of new movie 'Dunkirk'!
Ian and Becky were invited to the event in Leicester Square because of their family connection to the real events that inspired Christopher Nolan’s new film about one of World War Two’s greatest rescues.
They have also featured in a short film made by popular social media brand LadBible to celebrate the RNLI’s links to Dunkirk ahead of the film’s release on Friday July 21.
Coxswain Ian’s great-great-uncle Alf Moody was a lifeboatman at Ramsgate. He was one of the crew that went over to France to help take stranded British troops off the beaches at Dunkirk as part of Operation Dynamo in 1940.
Another current RNLI crew member, Stephen Wheatley, who volunteers at Tower lifeboat station in central London, was also invited to the premiere as his grandfather, George Dickinson, was one of the troops rescued from the beaches. Stephen took a photograph of George with him to the event.
An old RNLI lifeboat was used in the film – the Henry Finlay, which saw service at Teignmouth in Devon. It can be clearly seen in several key scenes, although it wasn’t actually one of the nineteen lifeboats joined the armada of ‘little ships’.
Seventeen RNLI vessels were taken over to Dunkirk by the Navy, but the boats from Ramsgate and Margate went over with their own crews on board – ordinary lifeboatmen prepared to head into war.
Howard Knight, then the coxswain of the Ramsgate lifeboat Prudential, later recalled the moment he informed his crew of their mission: “‘We are going over the other side to fetch our boys off,’ I told them. Not one of them hesitated.”
Margate lifeboat The Lord Southborough went over with Coxswain Edward Parker and ten crew. They were given steel helmets, food and cigarettes.
The commander of the HMS Icarus saw the lifeboatmen at work in France and later said: “The magnificent behaviour of the crew of the Margate lifeboat who, with no thought of rest, brought off load after load of soldiers from Dunkirk, under continuous shelling, bombing and aerial machine-gun fire, will be an inspiration to us as long as we live.”
The Margate crew took around 600 men off the beaches, while the Ramsgate crew, who worked continuously for 30 hours, took around 2800 men off the beaches.
In total, over 338,000 men were rescued between 26 May and 4 June, of which over one third (98,000) were evacuated by Dunkirk's 'little ships'. The original target for Operation Dynamo had been to evacuate 45,000.
Coxswains Howard Knight and Edward Parker were awarded the Distinguished Service Medal for their gallantry and determination, and all crew members received the RNLI's Thanks on Vellum.
The other lifeboats that formed part of the ‘little ships’ flotilla were from: Gorleston, Lowestoft, Southwold, Aldeburgh, Clacton, Walton, Southend, Walmer, Hythe, Dungeness, Hastings, Eastbourne, Newhaven, Shoreham, Poole and Cadgwith.
One of the boats – the Lucy Lavers from Aldeburgh, known among local lifeboatmen as a ‘lucky’ boat – returned from Dunkirk safely and continued to serve in the RNLI until 1968.
She was later tracked down by Norfolk boatbuilder David Hewitt, who – with the help of the charity Rescue Wooden Boats – lovingly restored her to her former glory.
Lucy Lavers returned to the water in 2015 for the 75th anniversary of Operation Dynamo - and made a return crossing to Dunkirk.
She now resides in Wells-next-the-Sea, Norfolk,
where people can visit her and enjoy trips on what is a lasting piece of the RNLI’s history and a testament to the enduring courage of our volunteer crews.
Notes to Editors:
More photographs and information about the RNLI at Dunkirk are available: call 01202 336789/ [email protected]
A general overview of our involvement in the evacuation is available here: https://rnli.org/about-us/our-history/timeline/1940-dunkirk-little-ships
Key facts about the RNLI
The RNLI charity saves lives at sea. Its volunteers provide a 24-hour search and rescue service around the United Kingdom and Republic of Ireland coasts. The RNLI operates 238 lifeboat stations in the UK and Ireland and more than 240 lifeguard units on beaches around the UK and Channel Islands. The RNLI is independent of Coastguard and government and depends on voluntary donations and legacies to maintain its rescue service. Since the RNLI was founded in 1824, its lifeboat crews and lifeguards have saved over 142,700 lives.
Learn more about the RNLI
Contacting the RNLI - public enquiries