Dunkirk Little Ships celebrate…


…King Charles III’s coronation.
The super human feat of rescuing 338,226 Allied soldiers stranded on the beaches of Dunkirk between May 26 and June 24, 1940 was described by Winston Churchill as a “miracle of deliverance”. A miracle partly carried out by a fleet of small boats co-opted by the Admiralty in a strategic evacuation known as “Operation Dynamo”. Their role was crucial as larger ships were unable to reach the shore so that the small boats, crewed mostly by volunteers, ran a *shuttle* service, bravely ferrying soldiers out from the beach to waiting ships, returning several times under heavy fire. And so mitigating the disastrous military situation.
The memory of their achievement is kept alive by the Association of Dunkirk Little Ships, formed to “preserve for posterity the memory and identity of those ‘Little Ships’ that went to the aid of the British Expeditionary Force in 1940”. The Association has a list of ships known to have taken part in the rescue, many of them still afloat, and organise or attend several events during the year.

On their way…
Though unplanned, I was lucky enough to be perched on a bench in Victoria Tower Gardens as a few of the Little Ships were passing downstream along Lambeth Reach towards St. Katharine Docks Marina, where they were to celebrate the Coronation of King Charles III on May 6, 2023.


Moored in St. Katharine Docks Marina…
David Knight, skipper of MARGO II, one of the twenty-seven Little Ships taking part, explained:
The Association of Dunkirk Little Ships were kindly invited by St. Katharine Docks Marina to spend the weekend of Charles III’s Coronation in London.
The opportunity to spend this momentous weekend on Margo II with a host of very good friends will remain a fond memory for years.
Many of those vessels taking part were from the non-tidal Upper Thames. Bringing these historic old wooden boats down through the Pool of London is never taken lightly. To get from Richmond to Tower Bridge for locking into the marina means leaving shortly after low water at Richmond and navigating through Sion Reach, often with only a few inches of water under us. It must be said that since speed restrictions were put in place above Tower Bridge the wash from the clippers and ribs is much reduced, making the passage much safer and more enjoyable. Everyone made a safe passage down and back up to Teddington with no problems.”
Each of the Little Ships had a panel giving details about them. The largest of the group was GRETA, a Thames sailing barge built in 1891-2, and the smallest was sailing sloop MOONRAKER, built in 1911.

Little Ships in St. Katharine Docks Marina for the Coronation weekend.
GAY VENTURE and NAIAD ERRANT among a group of Little Ships moored at St. Katharine Docks Marina for the Coronation weekend.

Some of the Little Ships on their way home…
A few days later, more by chance than by design, I happened to be standing on Lambeth Bridge as a familiar shape came into view. Then a mini flotilla of Little Ships. How small they looked on the London Thames, and their vulnerably at sea under the relentless fire they endured at the French coast, serves only to emphasise the courage of those skippers who rose to the challenge.

Flotilla of Little Ships approaching Lambeth Bridge.

It’s clear that the Association of Dunkirk Little Ships is thriving, its members keen to preserve their classic boats and to share their history. They take part in a number of events during the year and you can discover their plans for 2023 on the link below. Among them they will be taking part in the 14th edition of the annual Classic Boat Festival, hosted by St. Katharine Docks Marina from September 9 to 10, 2023.

Sources and further information
Explore: The Association of Dunkirk Little Ships for details of those fateful days from May 30th – June 2nd, 1940; information about individual boats; and see Dunkirk Revisited by John Richards.
History and Stories: Operation Dynamo

Follow the Dunkirk Little Ships and St.Katharine Docks on Twitter: @Dunkirk_Ships @StKatsMarina
Also follow some of the boats photographed above:
Breda: @Breda1931
Lady of Mann: @mattcai96961678
Lady Lu/ Ian Gilbert: @Ladylou1936
Margo II: @Margo_II
Naiad Errant: @NaiadErrant

Ninety minutes…

…on Lambeth Reach, May 3, 2023.
Sometimes while watching the river from Victoria Tower Gardens there’s little traffic but during a ninety minute stretch at the beginning of May there seemed to be more activity than usual. Logged in the order photographed, here are a few of the boats that passed during that time.

Thames Marine Services refuelling barge CONQUESTOR.

Thames Marine Services with their fixed refuelling barges at Westminster and Wapping, and their four delivery barges – ARMADOR II, HEIKO, CONQUESTOR, and GOSSO – not only provide a thoroughly professional bunkering service, they add colour and life to the Thames in London.

Narrow boats are usually a rare sight along Lambeth Reach: this was the CARPATHIA heading upstream.

Tide fast flowing past a Palace of Westminster marker.
Dunkirk Little Ship MOONRAKER heading downstream to St. Katharine Docks Marina.

Aware that some of the Dunkirk Little Ships would be heading downstream along Lambeth Reach to take part in the Coronation Celebrations for King Charles III at St. Katharine Docks Marina, I was on the lookout and lucky enough to spot five of them. MOONRAKER was the first. It’s still hard to take in the courage needed to sail little boat like her across the Channel, let alone under bombardment.

Cory tug REGAIN.

Among the boats that passed upstream were three Cory tugs: Firstly REGAIN, then RESOURCE and RECOVERY, whose pictures you’ll see below. They were heading with their barges of empty containers to collect filled containers of waste from their depots at Western Riverside, Wandsworth and Cringle Dock, Battersea, before transporting them to their Belvedere riverside processing and re-cycling facility.

Five immature gulls.

Not only are there boats to watch but birds: in this instance a group of immature herring gulls floating upstream with the tide.

GPS tug ILLYRIA passing Police launch NINA MACKAY III.

GPS Marine tugs often sail along Lambeth Reach. The company is the “largest multi cargo intra port barge operator on the River Thames and Medway” and has a wide range of marine vessels for hire. They are always interesting to see, either on their way to collect a tow, or towing barges filled with a variety of materials.

PLA harbour launch BARNES.

Seldom a walk by the river passes without seeing a Port of London Authority harbour service boat. BARNES is one of their “fleet of four purpose-built patrol vessels operating in the middle and lower reaches of the tidal Thames, between Putney Bridge and the North Sea.”


One of Thames Water’s skimmer vessels heading upstream, ready to collect all kinds of litter from the river.

Camera/film boat.

Small boat, darting about along Lambeth Reach, which appeared to be following and filming the Dunkirk Little Ships as they made their way downstream.

Dunkirk Little Ship GAY VENTURE heading downstream.

After MOONRAKER came three more Dunkirk Little Ships: GAY VENTURE, NAIAD ERRANT and TOM TIT all heading for St. Katharine Docks Marina to join in the weekend’s festivities.

Dunkirk Little Ship NAIAD ERRANT.
Dunkirk Little Ship TOM TIT.
GPS tug CERVIA side-towing a barge of aggregate to a site upstream.
CPBS Marine Services’ workboat WATCHDOG heading upstream to carry out a crew transfer.

CPBS Marine Services based at Temple Pier, operate a wide range of craft, working on a wide variety of projects throughout the UK, including multicats, tugs and workboats, which I see often along Lambeth Reach.

CORY tug RECOVERY heading upstream.
Dunkirk Little Ship MARY IRENE heading downstream.

MARY IRENE was the fifth and final of the five Dunkirk Little Ships that passed by during the ninety minutes.

CPBS Marine WATCHDOG heading back to base.

CPBS Marine’s WATCHDOG heading back downstream with crew or workers collected from a site upstream.

PS Wake Notes
These three last photographs, taken on other days, are of boats that regularly appear when I’m down by the river but for some reason on May 3rd, I must have missed them.Yet they are very much a part of the Lambeth Reach scene and are almost guaranteed to appear if one spends any time there.

SUN Clipper.

You can find out about the Uber Boat Thames Clipper Service here.


Very popular with tourists, M.V. SILVER BONITO can be seen regularly with a full consignment of sightseers. Find details of the London Eye River Cruise here.


The Terrible Thames Horrible Histories river tour is hugely popular too and sounds great fun. Their two actors bring history to life with verve and humour and when SILVER SOCKEYE is turned to head back towards Westminster Bridge their voices can be clearly heard across the water: ” What goes around comes around.”.