I’ve been back and forth to the Isle of Man recently and something happened there the other day which set my mind ticking about a possibly forgotten slice of North East coastal history.
Most of the news from the Island lately has been focused on the TT Races where motor bikes go racing around at frightening speed, but it was a simple ceremony which caught my eye – and it was linked to the famous evacuation of Allied troops from Dunkirk in 1940.
I’m making the dangerous assumption that younger readers will know of this, but I suspect that many, sadly, will not.
In brief, 75 years ago, our country was at a very low ebb and in real danger of losing the war and facing invasion from unspeakably evil Nazi forces.
Our army and French allies were being pursued by superior German forces and huge numbers of them were being trapped against the French coast.
The ambitious decision was made to try to evacuate them, with the complications of shallow waters near Dunkirk and heavy fire from shore batteries and the Luftwaffe, the German Air Force.
It was impossible to get large Royal Navy ships close to shore and the call went out to get small boats capable of operating in shallow waters to assist in getting our troops back to safety.
I’d always assumed that the famous “little ships” all came from south east England and that’s why the commemoration on the Isle of Man caught my eye.
I hadn’t realised that eight of the island’s “steam packet ships”, often used as ferries, had also taken part in the Dunkirk rescue – a long way from home.
In total, almost 340,000 Allied troops were rescued, and the Manx ships were responsible for about 25,000 of that total – all taken off the beaches while under heavy fire.
Three of the ships were lost – Mona’s Queen, Fenella and King Orry – with heavy loss of life.
The anchor of Mona’s Queen was recovered from the sea bed near Dunkirk in 2010 and that now forms the centrepiece of a memorial at Kellow Point in Port St Mary, which is where the events of 1940 were remembered again.
Given that Hartlepool and neighbouring ports are much closer to Dunkirk than the Isle of Man, it set me wondering whether any of our local ships and crews were involved.
I’ve asked around knowledgeable friends, but nobody seems to know – perhaps you can help?
I grew up knowing the name of Dunkirk, because some family members I never met lost their lives there.
The Dunkirk evacuation began on May 27th and ended on June 4th, triggering the famous “we shall fight them on the beaches” from Winston Churchill who hailed the operation as “a miracle of deliverance”.
Without that amazing rescue operation, there’s little doubt that it would be the Nazi swastika rather than our proud Union Flag flying in the sunshine in Hartlepool today.
In a week when our news has been dominated by FIFA corruption in football and tales of a stunt dog on a talent show on TV, it does no harm to pause and reflect on what’s really important to remember.
I’m sure that many local families will have lost loved ones at Dunkirk, and we should recall them all with pride and gratitude.