Ramsgate Rally - Paul Gilson

Every time we go somewhere we learn new stories and meet some very special people. Our latest trip to Ramsgate was no different.

Royal Navy Cadets on board Endeavour during this year’s trip to Ramsgate
After what I feel was the best church service I have attended with the ‘Dunkirk Little Ships’ (DLS) (if all members of the clergy could enlighten the congregation as this man did churches across the land would be full) we returned to Endeavour to meet guests.

Sounds easy enough! People would walk along the long pontoons and down to the boats to talk to us: what could be simpler than that you may ask?

Bad weather was again playing a hand; the wind was straight in the harbour carrying with it a big swell that was making the pontoon dance about like a fair ground ride. It was not for the faint hearted and the selection of people that made the trip were made of sterner stuff. Not quite the case with several navy cadets who came aboard our neighbour to have a cup of tea, only for them to rush outside after turning green, to be violently sick.

Lion TV aboard Endeavour filming for the Yesterday Channel.
Time and again I was told other boats may look prettier, but Endeavour was their favourite because she was still as she was at the time of the evacuation. One old soldier, who claimed to be one of the last from the Mole, had us in fits of laughter as he recounted his story, but I’m afraid that most of it would not be fit for a mixed audience.

Another guest started to talk about hits and that and what he had learned; he asked about us and the story of the Leigh boats. We related the stories of six boats to sea and only five coming back. How the lives of the families of the Renown and my wife’s would have been so different if the crews had not changed at the last minute before  leaving. He then asked for contact details and said he would be in touch as he was making a programme about special stories. We have made that programme and it will be on later this year, probably on the Yesterday Channel.

What was fascinating was what he had learned since our meeting. He had met some incredible people and, as he put it "the legend of Dunkirk gets bigger".

He related that he had met a soldier who had survived the massacre of Woumhout, been marched across half of occupied Europe to finish up working in a salt mine in Poland for four years.

He then had to run away to avoid the Russian army and had made his way to Switzerland. He was hoping to get back and get his full story told as it was just out of a boy’s own story book.

In the making of the programme, he had visited Dover Castle and been shown around the control centre for Operation ‘Dynamo’. He was taken aback that the whole operation had been done with one telephone.

I will not give away the plot or who is in it, but if it is edited well, it will be quite good.

While making this programme, a few words stuck in my head and I wrote this poem:

SIX BOATS - Paul Gilson
Six boats left the old town
Not knowing where they were bound
Cockle boats one and all
They had answered the nation’s call

The British army was trapped in France
Trying to stop the German advance
They had been beaten back to the beach
Leaving the navy out of reach

After several days of evacuation
More was needed, some drastic action
From river and creek around the coast
It was little ships they needed most

Ferries, fishers and pleasure craft
Anything with little draft
Our cockle boats met this criteria
In shallow water they were superior

To the beaches they did go
Ferrying soldiers to and fro
They were manned by all and sundry
Possibly back in the office on Monday

Organised chaos we are told
Many stories would leave us cold
But one we will tell again and again
Despite the loss and the pain

One of ours, the little Renown
Did not come back to the old town
A mine was her demise
She was only small, vaporised

We must never forget what they gave
For them there is no grave
Remember them and the others too
They saved our army for me and you.

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