Royal Navy supports Dunkirk 75th anniversary commemorations

Royal Navy boats HMS Ranger and HMS Trumpeter will sail to Ramsgate this week, in support of commemorative activities to mark the 75th anniversary of the Dunkirk Evacuations - known as Operation Dynamo - in which 338,000 British and French Troops were saved from German Forces.

HMS Trumpeter is arriving at approximately 1pm on Tuesday, May 19 and HMS Ranger is arriving during the afternoon of Wednesday, May 20th. The two vessels will be berthed alongside one another at Eastern Breakwater in Ramsgate Harbour.

HMS Ranger, commanded by Lieutenant Iain Laird, is the Sussex University Royal Naval Unit. Lieutenant Chris Chew is the Commanding Officer of HMS Trumpeter the training vessel for Cambridge University Royal Naval Unit

Upon arrival in Ramsgate, the boats will join a fleet of approximately 50 vessels recognised by the Association of Dunkirk Little Ships (ADLS). These are the original little ships that went to the aid of the British Expeditionary Force during Operation Dynamo.

What’s the worst that could happen?

Veteran Michael Bentall

Five members of staff and twenty ratings from Victory Squadron, the warfare training squadron at HMS Collingwood - the Royal Navy’s largest training establishment - will be embarking in the little ships for the crossing and attending all of the commemorative events in Dunkirk.

Victory Squadron has been affiliated with ADLS since 2007 and have been assisting with the ADLS return to Dunkirk since 2010. In May 1940 the little ships were pre-dominantly manned by Royal Navy ratings from Chatham and Portsmouth throughout Operation Dynamo. For many it was their first experience of warfare so it is fitting that this affiliation was formed.  

The team from HMS Collingwood will be attending a church service in the Dynamo Marquee on Wednesday, May 20. The service will be officiated by ex-Naval Chaplain Reverend Gordon Warren who is now the vicar of the Sailors Church in Ramsgate and ADLS Honorary Chaplain.

The representatives from HMS Collingwood will then take part in a tri-service parade around the Royal Harbour of Ramsgate at 12.30pm led by the Army Band from the Royal Engineers Chatham.

Veterans Groups participating include the Parachute Regt Association, Submariners Association, Gravesend Merchant Navy Association, Royal British Legion, Royal Marines Association, Kent Royal Artillery Association, RAFA, Ramsgate Royal Naval Association, Medway Merchant Navy Association, East Kent Grenadier Guards Association and the RNLI.

All groups will include veterans of WW2 and more recent conflicts amongst their marching groups and all will be parading their Association Standards.

The salute will be taken by Major General Ramsey, son of Admiral Sir Bertram Ramsey who was overall commander of Operation Dynamo operating out of Dover Castle. Major General Ramsey’s escort for the parade is Admiral of the Fleet the Lord Boyce, Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports.

Early on Thursday, May 21, His Royal Highness Prince Michael of Kent, the Association's Honorary Admiral will embark in HMS Trumpeter.

At approximately 9am and accompanied by a spectacular flypast by a Hurricane and Spitfire from the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight, HMS Trumpeter will proudly lead the convoy of Little Ships out of Ramsgate. HMS Trumpeter will be supported by HMS Ranger on the passage to Dunkirk with an expected arrival time of 6pm at Bassin du Commerce.

Two veterans who took part in Operation Dynamo will be embarked in Dunkirk Little Ship ‘Princess Freda’ for the crossing and they will be looked after by two ratings from Victory Squadron. One of the veterans is 97-years old Michael Bentall who has travelled all the way from Canada.

Mike served with the 4th Battalion, Royal Berkshire Regiment part of the British Expeditionary Force (BEF). The withdrawal was largely done on foot and Mike had to cover the 120 odd miles with little to eat or drink, and facing constant enemy action. 

After reaching the beach somewhere between Dunkirque and La Panne, Mike and his comrades were lucky enough to find a rowing boat which they used to row out to deep waters. They were then rescued and returned safely to Sheerness around June 4, 1940.

When asked if he wished to take part in the crossing Mike said: “What’s the worst that could happen?”

On Friday, May 22 Royal Navy representatives will attend a commemorative ceremony taking place at 3.30pm at the Commonwealth War Graves Commission Cemetery at the Rue des Furnes in Dunkirk.

Royal Navy representatives will also attend a service taking place on Saturday, May 23rd at 11am at Allied Memorial La Panne, part of which will be officiated by ADLS Honorary Chaplain Gordon Warren.

On Sunday, May 24 at 10am a memorial service will be held at the site of MV Crested Eagle at Zuydcoote which was a paddle steamer attacked and sunk with 300 soldiers on board, all of whom lost their lives.  A memorial plaque will be unveiled at the Service. Veterans attending include a Royal Navy Veteran whose brother was lost during the sinking.

The memorial service will be followed by an ADLS Commemorative Church Service at 11.30am on the quay side adjacent to the Little Ships, Bassin du Commerce. This will be led by Honorary Chaplin Gordon Warren and the French Padre. The service will be open to the public and the local media.

On Monday, May 25 at approximately 6am, HMS Trumpeter and HMS Ranger will escort the little ships home to Ramsgate. On route they will rendezvous with 17 Port and Maritime Regiment, Royal Logistics Corps vessels at East Goodwin at approximately 2pm.

These workboats represent the Army's presence at Operation Dynamo; The Operation was focused on the rescue of the British Expeditionary Force in 1940 so it is entirely appropriate that an Army Boat is present for the entry into Ramsgate.  Many of the little ships brought troops back with them throughout Operation Dynamo and especially when they left Dunkirk for the last time.

The fleet of vessels will finally arrive back at Ramsgate at approximately 3.30pm.