Operation Dynamo Poole Lifeboat remembers
80 years ago, this week our homeland faced possibly the biggest threat to our existence. The British Expeditionary Force and remnants of the French Army were in full flight from the Germans invading France with ruthless efficiency.
The call went out from the Royal Navy to all mariners along the South Coast, including fishermen, pleasure boat operators, the RNLI and even tugboats, to provide whatever vessels were available to rescue our troops. The result was an incredible 700 boats assembled at Ramsgate and Dover to undertake the voyage to the Dunkirk beaches. During a fateful 9 days, almost 100 of the little craft were lost, perished, together with their courageous owners and crew.
Our local vessels played a part in the evacuation – designated by the Admiralty as “Operation Dynamo” under the overall charge of Admiral Ramsey in Dover.
The Poole Lifeboat or a it was known then, the Poole and Bournemouth lifeboat ‘Thomas Kirk Wright’ sailed from Poole to Ramsgate on her way to Dunkirk and was the first RNLI lifeboat among 19 from the south coast to arrive on the beaches on 30th May 1940.
The lifeboat had arrived on service in Poole the year before and was the first motorised lifeboat for the town and a surf lifeboat with protected propellers, drawing only 2ft 6inches ideal for the shallow waters of Poole Harbour and for getting in close to the Dunkirk Beaches.
The lifeboat had actually been towed to Ramsgate as she was not very fast, and the naval ratings took her straight away.
She was bombed, machine-gunned and damaged, but by virtue of her shallow draught and propulsion system, managed to rescue numerous troops, working close in on the beaches some 40 yards away from the relentless German barrage. According to her Admiralty Log she made three trips across the channel before returning to Dover on one engine on 3rd June.
Poole provided many boats for the rescue and amongst them were eleven passenger boats built by Bolsons on the quay – all called “Skylark – the traditional name of the Bolson fleet. “Skylark IX” eventually ended up in service on Loch Lomond – some way from Dunkirk!
The Davis family of Sandbanks built their own passenger ferries for the Brownsea Island service, and the brothers provided their boats “Felicity” and “Island Queen”. “Felicity” survived and returned to Poole, but sadly” Island Queen” was never heard of again.
There was also several Dutch ‘Schuyts’ barges that had first crossed the channel as refugees and had set up temporary camp on Brownsea earlier in May, defiantly they joined the flotilla along with some of the Pooles fishing boats.
There is a postcard from Sandy Wills, who was on the crew at the time and whilst waiting for the travel pass in Ramsgate, he sent news, sharing information of the boats.
This weekend we would have been marking the 80th anniversary of the evacuation of more than 300,000 Allied soldiers from the beaches of Dunkirk, France between May 26th and June 4th, 1940.
The estimates from the Royal Navy suggested that 30,000 men, at best 50,000, might be evacuated out of over 250,000 men in the British Expeditionary Force as the task was ending the admiralty said at the time
‘The most extensive and difficult combined operation in naval history, the evacuation from Dunkirk of British, French, and Belgian troops, in numbers which will surprise the world.is nearly complete. The story of the retreat and evacuation, even as it is told in the sober official communiques, illumines the darkness of this bitter hour; it lifts up our hearts in admiration and gratitude; and it bids us be of good courage to meet, in the unconquerable spirit of Dunkirk, whatever ordeals the future may hold’
Poole Harbour Commissioners have remembered and revered our special boat by designing a commemorative Harbour Dues permit sticker for 2020.
We had been planning a commemorative open air service outside the Old Lifeboat Station with a small flotilla of vessels to represent the ‘the fleet’ of Poole’s Dunkirk Little Ships’ to follow the lifeboat out of Poole Harbour to the Swash channel, where a wreath would be laid at sea, to remember, to never forget the sacrifices made so that we live our lives today.
Anne-Marie Clark,Thomas Kirk Wright custodian and Poole Lifeboat volunteer said;
‘We shall never forget the part that the small flotilla, that left Poole Quay played, 80 years ago. They answered the call and changed history against the odds. Our ‘Dunkirk Little ship’ is still in the lifeboat station where she served and is testimony to the miracle. The soldiers are very few now as the years pass but we vow to share their story, through our lifeboat. The lifeboat is a beacon of hope and a brave inspiration to all the generations that follow’.
The volunteers are incredibly sad, that we cannot mark this event as we would wish to but in true ‘Dunkirk Spirit’ we will not be beaten in these uncertain times, and we will commemorate in 2021 - 80 years plus 1. We are really chuffed and proud that the ‘armada’ of vessels that are moored in Poole today, will have a piece of ‘Dunkirk Spirit’ with them this year, displayed on the harbour dues permit, thank you PHC, it is something rather special and poignant in these difficult days, to remember, we can overcome adversity and rise above’.
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 over 238 lifeboat stations in the UK and Ireland and, in a normal year, 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.