• Photograph of St Katharine Docks
    Classic Boat Festival, St Katharine Docks

This weekend's Classic Boat Festival at St. Katharine Docks will play host to 14 Dunkirk Little Ships this year, including one which featured in Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk. You will have the chance to climb aboard, speak to their owners and come into direct contact with World War II history.

The Dunkirk Little Ships

On May 26th 1940, British and French troops were cut off and trapped on the beaches of Dunkirk after a pincer move by German troops during the Battle of France, and Operation Dynamo to save these troops was announced. Escape seemed impossible - the shallow waters of the beach meant British vessels could not reach troops, and many were destroyed by German air raids before rescue could be completed.

The Dunkirk Little Ships formed an integral and memorable part of the rescue operation, with many privately owned vessels from Kent manned by civilians, including barges, yachts, pleasure boats, speedboats and more forming flotillas to safely rescue troops as they could get closer to the shore. Many made multiple trips back and forth, and thousands were rescued this way. The Little Ship contribution led to the phrase ‘Dunkirk Spirit’, and is still used to describe sticking together in times of adversity.

Head to Classic Boat Festival this weekend to see these historic ships! Make sure you hop on board:

  • Elvin was filmed onset Christopher Nolan's film Dunkirk. Back in 1940, it was manned by Lieutenant Commander Buchanan had been invalided out of the service when war began, but applied immediately after the announcement was made on 29th May that Little Ships were needed.
  • the Massey Shaw
  • Janthea - previously called The Reda, this little ship braved a bombing raid and machine gun fire during the rescue mission, emerging without damage and returning twice to collect troops.
  • Massey Shaw – the London-based fireboat initially went to Dunkirk to help fight fires, however it ended up making three trips across the channel rescuing over 500 troops, including 30 troops from the Emil de Champ which had hit a mine in the Channel.
  • Firefly -  at just twenty-six feet long, Firefly is one of the tiniest Little Ships.

Also look out for Magic Rose, Riis, Vanessa, Lazy days, Wanda, Margo II, Hilfrangor, Mary Irene, Lady Lou, Ann.

Classic Boat Festival is on Fri 8, Sat 9 & Sun 10 September, midday - 6pm. You will also be able to see Maria Arceo's installation Future Dust.