UK Heritage Lottery Fund decision imminent on "Medway Queen"

Paul Jordan
21st June 2006, 12:03
This week marks a significant turning point in the fortunes (or misfortunes) of the lovely estuary paddler “MEDWAY QUEEN”. On Thursday, June 22, the UK Heritage Lottery Fund will announce if it plans to assist in saving this highly important ship or, as it has done in the past two applications by the Medway Queen Preservation Society, fail to recognize her outstanding historic contribution to what was probably the most pivotal event of the Second World war.

For those who are still unaware of the “Medway Queen" (and it's surprising how many there are) here is a synopsis. Built by the Ailsa Shipbuilding Co Ltd of Troon, East Ayrshire, Scotland in 1924, she was owned by the New Medway Steam Packet Company as part of their "Queen Line" fleet based at Rochester, Kent where she became famous on the East Coast as a day time excursion steamer on the River Thames and Medway. Her regular route was from Chatham and Strood, on the River Medway, to Sheerness, Southend, Herne Bay and at times Margate and also as far as Clacton, all on the Thames Estuary and return daily. In 1939 she was called up to serve her country and, with a radically altered profile, she joined the Royal Navy as minesweeper No J 48 (N 48) of the 10th minesweeping flotilla in the English Channel.

In the last week of May and first week of June 1940 her name became immortalized as part of the Dunkirk evacuation “Operation Dynamo”, an armada of small Naval vessels and “little ships” from the south of England who, in barely over a week, succeeded in plucking more than 330,000 British and French troops of the British Expeditionary Force from the beaches of France. Having been humiliated into retreat by Hitler’s Panzer Divisions, the allied armies were literally driven into the sea with no hope of escape. Had it not been for the incredible audacity and bravery of the crews of these ships under constant bombardment from the air and land, Britain, Europe and the rest of the world would likely have fallen under Hitler’s evil tyranny. “Medway Queen” distinguished herself throughout this operation by repeatedly nosing directly into the beaches of Dunkirk and plucking hordes of desperate soldiers from the sea as Stuka dive bombers screamed down to attack her. Making seven trips across the English Channel she returned to the beaches more times than any other “civilian” ship to save the lives of a record 7,000 troops and whose names are indelibly etched in her decks. For these fortunate soldiers the words “Medway Queen” would always be spoken of in tones of gratitude and reverence and she was justly dubbed “The Heroine of Dunkirk”.

The gratitude of a nation (and a world) to this heroine is apparently expressed by condemning her to lie abandoned and rotting in some forgotten backwater and to deny future generations the right to honour her brave legacy and enjoy her forever as a living monument to a moment in history when the entire world was saved from what could have become an era of horrifying evil. Her buckling plates and gaping rusty wounds are an insult to the expression “Lest we Forget” which now rings very hollow to those who have valiantly tried to save this remarkable ship for the past 20 years.

The “Medway Queen” has been repeatedly denied admission to the “Core List” of the UK National Register of Historic Vessels, and instead of recognizing her as a vessel of “national importance” which would guarantee her survival, this publicly funded body will admit her only as a “designated vessel” of “local importance”. This astounding refusal to acknowledge her appropriately is an insult to her well documented war record and denying her rightful place in history is a shameful example of political irresponsibility. It is a sad reflection of public lethargy that there has not been an outcry over this injustice as there are few ships in the world today more worthy than her of being preserved. The prospect of losing her irretrievably is a national outrage and, according to the Medway Queen Preservation Society, this prospect has now become a stark reality. If the UK National Heritage Lottery fund once again fails to recognize her on Thurday, then it will be time for those who feel she has sufferred enough indignity to not only take voice but to take affirmative action.

Let us therefore hope that the outcome on Thursday finally offers some hope for this valiant little "Heroine of Dunkirk" with her rightful return to a world which she so bravely served and which seems to have abandoned her.

Paul Jordan
Victoria, British Columbia, Canada
Moderator, Paddleducks (the Internet's meeting place for Paddle steamer enthusiasts)

For further information on the "Medway Queen" visit:
MEDWAY QUEEN UNOFFICIAL WEBSITE
http://www.medwayqueen.com/

MEDWAY QUEEN OFFICIAL WEBSITE
http://www.medwayqueen.co.uk/

Disclaimer: The author is not affiliated in any way with, nor expresses any official view of the Medway Queen Preservation Society.