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It’s been 16 years since the Dunkirk Little Ships held their annual gathering in Chatham, but they will be arriving here tomorrow for the weekend.
The ships make a pilgrimage to Dunkirk every five years to mark their valiant efforts in rescuing British troops from the beaches.
Next year’s visit will celebrate 75 years since the evacuation of allied troops from the beaches. But between the returns, the ships meet up every year.
About 40 of them are expected to arrive tomorrow afternoon, berthing on the heritage pontoons in Basin 1 at the marina, adjacent to the Ship and Trades pub.
A memorial service will be held at 11am on Sunday, to which anyone is welcome to attend.
Throughout the visit, the ships’ owners will be on hand to provide the story of each vessel. The ships will depart on Bank Holiday Monday.
The vessels will include the Latona, a river cruiser whose name was changed to HMS Hamford to avoid confusion with anther ship. After surviving Dunkirk she resumed her career as a pleasure cruiser until her Dunkirk history was uncovered in 1978 and she reverted to her old name.
The Wendy Ken motor cruiser was machine-gunned, bombed and set on fire as she made two crossings to Dunkirk and soldiers had to use their tunics to plug holes in her hull.
One vessel that won't be at the gathering but will be nearby is the Medway Queen, for local people the most famous of the Dunkirk Little Ships. Despite restoration work, she is not yet ready to join the other Little Ships but she will be there in spirit at her base in Gillingham Pier.
Those who want to see the Dunkirk Little Ships will also be able to check out the first Chatham Maritime Food and Drink Festival on Saturday, Sunday and Bank Holiday Monday.
The festival features a farmers market, street food stalls and a bar serving local ales and ciders.
There will also be an antiques market, a Little Sailors area for children, and musicians will be performing from the Dock Square bandstand.
On Sunday, the Sunlight Rotary Club will be hosting a dragon boat race from noon until 4pm with 16 teams expected to take part.
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