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Dunkirk veteran marks ‘little ships’ anniversary on June 1st with historic cruises on the Forth

A vessel which rescued hundreds of soldiers from the continent during the famous evacuation of Dunkirk in World War II is still in service on the Firth of Forth.

The Forth Princess was one of almost 900 ‘little ships’ which crossed the channel to assist the Royal Navy in evacuating 338,000 troops during ‘Operation Dynamo’.

While the heroic role of these small craft in evacuating allied troops from the continent in May and June 1940 is now acknowledged as one of the nation’s finest hours, the memory remains tinged with sadness at the thousands of comrades who were left behind.

In late May 1940, the little ships came in their hundreds: tugs, towing dinghies, life-boats, small motor yachts, motor launches, drifters, Thames barges, fishing boats and pleasure boats. Among them the craft now known as the Forth Princess was just one of a flotilla of some 861 vessels – of which 243 were sunk.

The 76ft-long Forth Princess was under the command of Sub Lieutenant S D Ward, Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve, and sailed from Dover on May 13, 1940 in the company of Skylark 6 and the trawlers Brock and Fyldea. The Brock later returned to Dover and the Skylark 6 was abandoned when her engines broke down.

They arrived off Dunkirk on 1 June and proceeded to the beach at Bray Dunes located one mile east of Dunkirk. The beaches and the town were under German air and artillery attack as Britannia began to ferry men from the beach to waiting ships. Between 1pm and 6pm the ‘Britannia’ ferried some 200 troops to the Fyldea and other waiting ships.

At 6.15pm the Fyldea ran aground, and Britannia went to her aid. With the Fyldea refloated, both vessels left for home and made for Dover, arriving there at 0255 on the morning of June 2, where 139 troops disembarked. A total of 338,226, British and Allied troops were rescued from the beaches of Dunkirk.

Following the evacuation, Britannia served as an inshore minesweeper with the Royal Navy until 1945, when she was returned to her owners and was back in her ‘civvy’ role carrying holidaymakers again by 1946.

Today, the Forth Princess operates on Forth Boat Tours’ popular Blackness Castle Cruise, which visits the historic medieval stronghold which featured in the popular TV drama ‘Outlander’. Passengers can view the famous trio of Forth Bridges en route for Blackness – enjoying an indulgent afternoon tea of sandwiches and scones with jam and cream as they cruise past the imposing 15th Century Fortress.

Forth Boat Tours sales, marketing and development manager Alastair Baird said: “The rescue of so many of its men, ensured that like a phoenix, Britain rose from the ashes of defeat to gain a great and lasting victory. We were delighted to be given the opportunity to add such a historic vessel to the Forth Boat Tours fleet and she has become a firm favourite with both our crews and passengers.

“We are proud to be keeping the spirit of Dunkirk alive and well on the Forth and while eternally grateful to those men and women who crewed the little ships, we will never forget those who did not return home.”
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