Dunkirk veterans join rowers and sailors to mark 60 years of Queen Elizabeth II’s reign

MTB102 is to lead the Little Ships at the pageant to mark the Queen’s Jubliee in London today

This is a great day for the UK’s boating community, as 1,000 small and medium sized craft from all round the home countries – preserved working boats, pleasure craft, veterans of the Battle of Dunkirk and others line up for a procession on the River Thames to mark 60 years of Queen’s Elizabeth II’s reign.

Larger sailing craft are lined up below Tower Bridge to form an impressive avenue of sail.

It’s great to see small craft involved in a national celebration. They say there hasn’t been anything like this in 350 years, and huge crowds are expected to see the procession row and motor by on the river. I imagine the folks who sell flags will have experienced a bonanza!

The BBC has some wonderful web pages explaining the event.

We’ve received many press releases and announcements about the boats and people taking part in the pageant, but the one I found most striking and moving was from the Association of Dunkirk Little Ships, which announced that  three Dunkirk veterans – ordinary geezers, most of the time – would be carried aboard their craft taking part in the pageant.

(If you watch events on TV, the Little Ships will be travelling together – the vessels taking part in the pageant are organised by type to minimise the risk of collisions.)

The three veterans are:

  • Vic Viner (embarked on Nyula) joined the Royal Navy in 1933. In 1940 he was landed from HMS Esk, an E-Class destroyer with other members of the RN to help organise the evacuation of the British Expeditionary Force (British forces in France at that time) from the beaches of Dunkirk. After several days he suffered a near-miss from a Stuka’s bomb and was blown in to the water. He regained consciousness still with his tin hat and trousers on but with is jacket completely gone; he has no memory of how he got back to England. Vic’s brother was on board the G-class destroyer Grenade, which was hit and abandoned off the beaches. He was then picked up by the paddle steamer Crested Eagle, which was bombed between the funnel and the engine room. As she sank her fuel oil ignited and the blaze that followed claimed over 300 lives, including Vic’s brother
  • Reg Vine (embarked on Janthea) was a 15-year old sea cadet with TS Phoenix (Twickenham Sea Cadets) based at Eel Pie Island, Twickenham. The unit held frequent training expeditions, and when Reg was asked if he would like to participate in a ‘potentially exciting’ trip on the unit’s launch Rummy II along with some other members of his cadet troop, his father signed the necessary permission. Rummy II took two unpowered life boats in tow and headed down stream. As they stopped for supplies at Richmond it was clear from the large number of boats heading down stream that a major enterprise was underway. The young crew arrived at Ramsgate late on the 30th May. Reg was issued a helmet, a Lee Enfield rifle and pocket full of .303 rounds. He was in the war! On the way over Reg and co suffered an air attack by three German bombers before arriving at Dunkirk with the two lifeboats still in tow. The young cadets then rowed the lifeboats, shuttling between the beach and Rummy II herself, which then carried the soaking men to larger Royal Navy and civilian ships lying approximately half a mile off shore. After two days of ferociously hard work, regular attacks and some minor hits to the vessel, the Rummy II and her exhausted crew returned to England safely.
  • Harry Kidney (embarked on Thamesa) was born in Sheffield in 1920 and was with the Royal Signals in France and Belgium before retreating to the Dunkirk beaches, from where he was taken to HMS Icarus and then returned to England on board a Little Ship whose name he cannot now recall.


6 thoughts on “Dunkirk veterans join rowers and sailors to mark 60 years of Queen Elizabeth II’s reign”

  1. I am there at 14.00 sitting in the dry in the Royal Festival Hall on the South Bank. They have free wifi. However despite it being a huge public occasion the crowds have largely been locked out of seeing anything – except on the 22 odd t.v. screens. Certainly the kids have been well excluded and anyone in a wheelchair should forget trying to see anything. The reason why is that ALL of the bridges have been closed to the public. And the organisations who own buildings next to the river have closed off ‘their’ respective areas for ‘to paid for’ so-called corporate hospitality. I have just been down to Coin Street which being community owned is actually open to the public – 20 deep at the railings. If only people were transparent. But the Festival Hall and South Bank viewing areas have ALL been closed off. As has the Thames Path through the OXO Tower and many other privately owned buildings.

    Basically the general public have been well EXCLUDED from viewing the proceedings.

    Anyway the Queen is disembarking from her guilded barge Spirit of Chartwell at HMS President – just after Waterloo Brifge – so she isn’t even going through the Millennium Bridge or Tower Bridge.

    On Friday we went down to the ‘Avenue of Sail’ below Tower Bridge. Again the viewing was restricted due to 1/ property owners closing off the Thames Path, and 2/ massive demolition / construction work for the massive Thames Sewer. The tall ships were all moored up onto buoys in mid-river. Even Belem looked tiny because no-one could get anywhere near her. TS Royalist was hidden behind a jungle of weeds growing on a mid-river pontoon. And NO tall ship – not one – showed a square inch of sail. ‘Avenue of Masts and Yards’ perhaps but ‘Sail’? No.

    Luckily on Friday we had a laptop with us and found out that Tenacious – the JST’s flag ship – was moored near Canary Wharf. We got the DLR round there – and SHE WAS HOLDING OPEN SHIP WITH THE PUBLIC ACTUALLY WELCOMED ON BOARD, GIVEN A CONDUCTED TOUR, AND WE EVEN GOT A CUP OF TEA. So if the JST could hold open ship why couldn’t Belem and TS Royalist etc.? At jus about every tall ship festival it has been possible to board the ships to look around. But not this Jubilee weekend.

    The main problem with the River Thames is that there are few places for tall ships to moor anymore. The riverside has been over-developed by property developers who have done more damage to the historic buildings of London than the Germans ever did in the blitz. The Thames Path is there by sufferance and is easily blocked as it has been today. The Piers are jealously guarded by the cruise boat operators. And the Port of London Authority doesn’t really like tall ships. I know this latter because some years’ ago we tried to get HMS Rose (now HMS Surprise) and also HM Bark Endeavour moored for public viewing. And the only places we could get were St. Katherine’s Dock for the former and Woolwich Pier for the latter.

    So sadly the Queen will not be viewing any of the tall ships, in fact no-one else will be either. And with the crowds – estimated to be over a million – restricted to the few remaining public areas alongside the Thames few will be seeing anything anyway.

  2. Shame one them! It’s so sad to hear that these great vantage points have been closed off to the public. It seems very much at odds with the spirit in which the South Bank complex was built – but unfortunately very much in tune with our times.

  3. It gets worse. You might have thought that the BBC would have issued briefing sheets about the ships to its starlet commentators. But no – the broadcasting was abysmal. Others have opined that:


    Well, the coverage on the Beeb was pretty grim I reckon, almost a complete waste of an afternoon’s viewing, IMO 🙁

    OK, they did include a goodly chunk of narrowboat coverage but the lack of knowledge (apart from the contribution of one chap) was quite unbelievable … and not just about narrowboats either. Either the people at the Beeb couldn’t be bothered to do any research or somebody
    dropped the notebook in a puddle and made what (little) writing it contained totally indecipherable!

    One might have thought, out of the 1000 vessels taking part, that the Beeb could have made a coherent commentary on at least a dozen of them – but, no, they took the easy path and flung in several essays into cakes and cooking (although there was one one diversion into Strictly Come
    Dancing as well ..). It was a blessing that it rained – because, if it hadn’t, the commentary would have dried up completely by about 3.00pm.

    The Historic Boats were obviously ‘old history’ to the Beeb and only mentioned in passing – the closest they got was when one sequence of the Dunkirk ‘Little Ships’ was shown – but, again, there was no depth other than inane comments about how pretty they looked.

    At least two wooden hulled historic boats, going on for 70 years of age apiece, suffered severe damage to their stern-gear when crossing Orford Ness, on their way from Lowestoft to join the fleet, in the early hours of Wednesday morning. One (the 102) finally made it down after emergency repairs; it took her 20 hours, travelling on one engine and making just 4 knots – but she got there (and even appeared in one fleeting sequence). The other, ‘Humber’, on her first trip after a privately financed major refit, lost one prop completely, sheered off the ‘P’ bracket on the
    other side and was first rescued, then pumped out, before being towed back in, close to sinking, by the local lifeboat.

    Still, I guess the commercial passenger ferries were a lot more interesting to watch – and, being quite big, they did a good job of filling the screen 🙁

    Out of five to six hours viewing the real heroine was Her Maj. – never once did she sit down for a rest and, towards the end, I really felt she deserved a special medal of her own – just for standing there, in the wet and wind, whilst cheerfully acknowledging every salute as the fleet sailed by .. monarchist or republican, you simply have to agree that she really is some woman to be able to do all of that at her age!

    What a shame the Beeb let her down so badly 🙁

    Trevor S.


    1. I only watched the hour-long highlights, but I was struck that at one point one presenter said they didn’t know what the Spider T was – and what a disctinctive vessel she is.

      A slipper launch was described as a Dunkirk Little Ship at another time – which seems unlikely – and the rowing boats were treated simply as a group, except for the Royal ‘rowing’ barge.

      It is a shame we weren’t told more. But that’s the tenor of the times – those who run museums, for example, tend to tell us less and less about the exhibits as time goes by, and this is just another example.

      I sometimes feel I’m being patronised, but then I reflect that maybe this level of information is what the public wants.


  4. Living in Adelaide, South Australia, the live telecast was in the early hours of the morning so I recorded it for latter viewing and VERY disappointed when I watched it the next night. Yes the Queen was the highlight. I would loved to see more close up of the various craft and details on them. There were Ozzie surf boats which were not mentioned and only glimpsed in the distance. Very disappointed, yes the BBC let us down.

    1. In case you missed it – as I did – Martyn Heighton’s furious letter to the Telegraph about the BBC’s Jubilee pageant coverage is here:

      He makes some very good points.


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