AS ceremonies take place in many countries to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the start of the Second World War, we have our own opportunity to pay tribute to acts of extreme bravery when the Association of Dunkirk Little Ships (ADLS) stages its annual veterans’ cruise up the Thames from Kingston to Weybridge on Sunday, September 13.
And this year promises to be one of the most spectacular events of recent years with more than 250 people and no fewer than 20 of the remaining ‘little ships’ taking part.
Ian Gilbert from Shepperton, the owner of Papillon, itself one of the flotilla of small craft that repeatedly crossed the English Channel to help evacuate around 350,000 British and allied soldiers from the beaches of Dunkirk in 1940, has put a huge amount of effort into helping organise the veterans’ cruise but he’s delighted with the result.
“This year, we’re going to have around 25 veterans from Operation Dynamo (the official name for the evacuation) along with veterans from D-Day and other major operations,” he told me. “We’ve even managed to find the last surviving Navy beach master who was landed to organise the evacuation.
“There will also be 20 of the little ships on show including MTB 102 – one of the last surviving craft of its kind from the war – which will be leading the flotilla up the river.”
Each boat will have at least one currently serving naval rating aboard – as they did when they crossed the channel back in 1940 – and HRH Prince Michael of Kent, the ADLS’ honorary admiral, will be aboard MTB 102 along with other dignitaries including the mayors of Spelthorne, Elmbridge and Kingston.
The flotilla will leave Kingston from Turk’s landing stage at 10am and should reach Molesey Lock at around 10.45. Obviously with so many boats in the fleet, it will take time to go through the locks at Molesey and then at Sunbury but the procession should start arriving at Weybridge Mariners’ Club on Shepperton Lock Island about 1pm. There, the veterans and guests will have lunch after which an impressive array of Second World War vintage vehicles will be waiting to take the veterans back to Kingston.
If you’d like to witness one of the most spectacular processions of Dunkirk little ships ever seen on our stretch of the river, do come out to give them a wave and a cheer as they pass by. Given that some of these beautiful old craft are now in excess of 80 years old, who knows how many more times you’ll be able to witness a sight like this?