Medway Queen’s memories of Dunkirk

An on-board exhibition in the lower aft saloon of the historic paddler Medway Queen recalls the ship’s exploits at Dunkirk.

Extracts from memoires and short accounts recorded by the Medway Queen Preservation Society from crew members and evacuees give an insight into what it must have been like to be on board during the evacuation. Some are poignant, some have a touch of humour. All are understated!

The exhibition runs through the summer until late August (see for exact dates). In September the display will be replaced by a reprise of ‘Review of the Fleet’ for the remainder of the year. The ship and Visitor Centre are open on Saturdays from 11am to 4pm, with last admissions at 3pm.

Dunkirk in 1940

In the evening of 27 May 1940 HMS Medway Queen set sail on her first trip to Dunkirk. Nobody on board knew the significance of the operation or that they would repeat it six times over the next few nights.

The veterans who crewed the ship at that time or who were rescued by her during Operation Dynamo have always played a big part in the Medway Queen Preservation Society’s culture.

Sadly there are very few still with us but many left their stories and recollections for our archive. Descendants of others have also contributed to this rich written heritage when they became aware of our restoration project.

Thomas Russell, ship’s cook, recalled: “The end of a bandage was dipping in the mess-tin that was held out to me but I was unable to stop my robot-like dip and pour rhythm in time to avoid emptying a ladle of stew over it. Curiosity made me look up and some drops of perspiration fell from the end of my nose into the stew. The soldier I saw was wounded in the head, his young face pinched and white under the blood-soaked field dressing. Blood and sweat. Our eyes met as he removed the bandage from the tin and sucked the gravy from it.” “Thanks Pal. Tastes smashing!”

More trustees and volunteers are needed

Progress has been made by our volunteers in making more of the ship accessible to visitors. A huge amount of effort has been put into drafting a restoration plan for the future and a start has been made on fitting out. A small dedicated team makes the project accessible to visitors.

The society’s Heritage Lottery Fund Transition Grant includes that preparation for the next stage of the restoration and for recruiting additional trustees to strengthen the board. We need to find trustees with technical, fundraising and management expertise, but the Society also needs trustees and other volunteers with technical expertise or experience of event and tourism management.

If you are interested and have the skills being sought please phone the society on 01634 575717 or contact John Kempton (Chairman) at

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