75th Commemorative Return to Dunkirk - Paul Gilson

I am writing this just a week or so before this years return. In fact when the newsletter arrives on your doorstep the crew and I will probably be in Dunkirk.

It does not feel like ten years ago that I first took Endeavour back to Dunkirk. Our knowledge of the evacuation continues to grow as we hear new stories; tales of sacrifice, bravery, camaraderie and commitment. We may be glorifying a defeat but that is not what it is about. The ‘little ships’ included posh yachts from the upper reaches of the Thames, sailing barges, tugs, lifeboats and fishing boats including the six Leigh cockle boats.

This photograph from Endeavour's return in 2010
shows crew members ready to place wreaths
in the sea off Dunkirk in memory of
those from Leigh who lost their lives
on Renown in 1940.
The evacuation masterminded by Vice Admiral Ramsay from the tunnels beneath Dover Castle was expected to last four days, with the expectation of 45,000 troops rescued. But perfect weather conditions meant that many more boats could be used. 693 little ships took part rescuing in excess of 338,000 allied troops over nine days.

No wonder Winston Churchill proclaimed in Parliament the operation as 'a miracle of deliverance', known today as ‘the miracle of Dunkirk’.

We leave Leigh, to take part in the 75th commemorative return, on Tuesday 19th May making our way to Ramsgate where we will join sixty other 'little ships' ready to make our crossing to Dunkirk, weather permitting, on 21st May.

We will be escorted by two small Navy patrol vessels; sadly there is no warship available to escort us this time. Several lifeboats will also be there to watch over us.

In Dunkirk we will be in the inner basin where services of thanksgiving will be held. Many tears will be shed as we pray for those who made the ultimate sacrifice all those years ago.

There will be some veterans in Dunkirk but, sadly, unlike the boats that can have parts replaced and renewed, veteran numbers reduce each year. I sincerely hope that the five yearly returns will continue so we may continue to commemorate what our troops endured and the historic actions of the ‘little ships’ and their skippers and crew.

One veteran, who lives in Canada, is joining us in Dunkirk. When asked, "Isn’t the trip too risky for you; shouldn’t you be taking it easy?" he replied, "I am 97. Why should I save myself? There’s not that much left to look forward to, I am going!"
A front page national newspaper report,
dated 31st May 1940,
of the successful ongoing evacuation.
Coincidentally this is the same day
the Leigh cockle boats left Southend.
The newspaper has been kindly donated
by member, Walter Waye.

That really says it all. 

There is no greater gift than a man laying down his life for his friends.

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