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The Medway Queen paddle steamer, now docked in Gillingham, celebrates her 90th birthday on St George's Day

By Nicola Jordan

She was a heroine of the Second World War when she rescued thousands of allied troops from the beaches of Dunkirk. She was beloved by those who boarded her on enjoyable day trips.

But the Medway Queen so nearly ended up on the scrapheap and only the efforts of loyal supporters saved her.

Today - St George's Day - she celebrates her 90th birthday, back where she belongs in Medway, after five years of rebuilding work in Bristol.

The Medway Queen returns to Medway
The Medway Queen returns to Medway

The restoration work continues but the days when volunteers had to scrape off the mud and patch up holes in order to move her to a temporary home at Damhead Creek, Kingsnorth, seem a long time ago now.

The founder members of the Medway Queen Preservation Society felt that the ship represented an important part of the commercial and maritime history of the River Medway.

It soon became obvious that millions would be needed for repairs and restoration and the society began the thankless task of bidding for funding.

She eventually got a £1.8 million grant from the National Lottery Heritage Fund towards re-building her hull.

The Medway Queen being rebuilt in Bristol
The Medway Queen being rebuilt in Bristol

In November 2010, Antoine Porteneuve was appointed coordinator for the Heroes 2C project, a cross-border partnership with France and Belgium aimed at preserving maritime heritage and promoting tourism.

This initiative was partly-funded by the European Regional Development Fund which ended in December last year, but now a new deal has been clinched with an inter-Europe organisation.

Mr Porteneuve, 27, said: “The Heroes 2C project, combined with the heritage lottery grant, has allowed the society to make its biggest step forward in the preservation of the ship so far over the last three years.

“I was the first employee working in a small office in Strood while the hull of the ship was being re-built in Bristol.

"Three years later we are based on Gillingham Pier where we have set up a training centre for young people and have four qualified instructors. We have also set up a permanent visitor centre.”

The Medway Queen in her heyday
The Medway Queen in her heyday

The latest scheme Maritime Heritage Skills, will see them working with colleagues in this country and the Netherlands with a view to submitting a bigger application for funding to the EU.

If successful, it would secure finances up until 2020 when it is hoped the paddle-steamer will be up and running as a working vessel.

Brian Goodhew, 76, MQPS publicity officer, served on her for a spell in 1953.

He said: “It’s taken a long time and we have so many ups and downs. But we have finally got her home - and that’s the main thing.”

  • There will be a service and wreath-laying ceremony at Gillingham Pier on Sunday, starting at 2.30pm.
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