More than 50 little ships sail to France for 70th anniversary

More than 50 boats have reached Dunkirk to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the famous evacuation from the French town.

The flotilla of little ships left Ramsgate at 7.30am and according to Richard Basey, who was one of the first to arrive, they enjoyed a ‘very good crossing’, even though the ‘wind had dropped completely’.

The ships were escorted on their eight-hour journey by the Royal Navy frigate HMS Monmouth, the youngest ship in the fleet, as they re-enacted Operation Dynamo, which saved about 338,000 allied troops in World War Two.

Brian de Mattos, whose father Basil was part of the rescue mission, participated in the event on board the Greta, the oldest of the little ships involved in the Dunkirk evacuation.

He said: ‘It’s a great honour for me to be following in my father’s footsteps 70 years later. To see all these little ships is really quite an emotional time.

‘My father made many trips in and out of Dunkirk harbour often under fire from the enemy.’

As the boats entered Dunkirk they were greeted by a French piper and a ceremony will be held on Saturday at the Allied memorial on Dunkirk beach, followed by a minute’s silence and the national anthems of Britain, the Czech Republic, France and Belgium.

The original evacuation took place between May 26 and June 4 1940, and involved 900 naval and civilian craft which were sent across the Channel under RAF protection.

Also among them were a number of smaller vessels including fishing boats pleasure crafts, paddle steamers and lifeboats.

Edwin Brown was among those rescued in 1940 and he said: ‘The little ships made a hell of a difference because they got us out to the bigger boats where we could get some help from the sailors who couldn’t get in because of the depth of the water.

‘There isn’t a better spirit anywhere because everyone was looking after each other.

‘If you were in trouble and you needed help, it was there. That was the Dunkirk spirit.’