IF YOU happen to be wandering along beside the river in a couple of week’s time, you may see a wonderful collection of classic boats chugging past as the Association of Dunkirk Little Ships (ADLS) veterans’ cruise winds its stately way from Kingston to Shepperton.
The annual event, which take place this year on Sunday, September 14, commemorates Operation Dynamo, the evacuation of British and other allied forces from the beaches of Dunkirk in May 1940 when a host of small cabin cruisers and river launches crossed the channel to help bring home an astonishing 300,000 men who were surrounded by advancing German troops – an event which enabled Britain to keep fighting.
Ian Gilbert from Ash Road, Shepperton, is one of the organising committee members of the ADLS and the proud owner of Papillon, a 33-foot long Dunkirk veteran herself and one of the boats that will be taking part in the flotilla. He is keen to attract as many veterans of the evacuation as possible.
He said: “Obviously with every passing year there are fewer and fewer veterans who are able to take part in this event. We have regulars who come on the boats every year but I’m keen to try to identify other survivors of the action and to offer them places on the cruise. If any of your readers know of a Dunkirk vet we could contact, then I’d be really grateful if they’d get in touch with me.”
57-year-old Ian, an aerospace consultant, and his wife Karina, 54, have owned Papillon for 11 years having rescued her from a mud berth close to the QE2 bridge on the lower reaches of the Thames and spent a lot of time and money on restoring her.
“I always wanted to own a boat with a bit of history,” he said, “and when Papillon became available, it wasn’t that difficult a decision to buy her.”
Other Dunkirk little ships that are scheduled to take part in the veterans’ cruise include Naiad Errant, Bluebird of Chelsea, Tom Tit and Gay Venture, which is normally moored at Dennett’s Yard on Laleham Reach. The ADLS are hoping for between 10 and 12 boats to take part altogether.
“We’ll also have Tamesia which is owned by John Tough, the son of the owner of Tough’s boat yard at Teddington where the original flotilla of little ships from the Thames actually got together,” says Ian.
Along with old soldiers from Dunkirk itself, those taking part in the cruise will include members of the submarine service, survivors from the Normandy landings and members of the Royal Air Force’s Association. Ian Gilbert also hopes to have a contingent of ex-servicemen from the Royal Hospital, Chelsea. Each boat will have a naval rating aboard – as did the original little ships.
If you’d like to wave to the flotilla as it passes, the veterans’ cruise gets under way from Horsefair Quay, Kingston at around 10am and will be passing through Molesey lock at around 10.40am and Sunbury lock at about 11.40am. It will reach its final destination at Weybridge Mariners’ Club on Shepperton lock island at around 12.45pm where the veterans will be met by a guard of honour before having lunch.
Later in the day, the veterans will be taken back to Kingston in a convoy of Second World War military vehicles which will be parked on the Weybridge side of the river.
If you are a Dunkirk veteran – or if you know someone who is – please contact Ian Gilbert for a chance to take part in this unique event. His mobile number is 07828 812648 and his email address is papillon1930 [at] yahoo.com.
IF YOU’RE looking for some watery entertainment, pop over the Richmond on Saturday for the start of the Great River Race which gets under way at around 2pm. The annual event is expected to attract up to 300 crews from all over the world who will paddle or row their way to Greenwich – a distance of 22 miles. Just don’t plan on taking your boat through the milling masses!