An historic paddle steamer which rescued thousands of soldiers during the evacuation of Dunkirk in the Second World War has returned home.
Work costing around £150,000 has been carried out. The hull has been inspected, cleaned and repainted, the paddle wheels have been repainted, and the saloon windows have been varnished. The deck rails have also been restored.
The Medway Queen returned this afternoon after an anxious time for the team. They had to wait for the right conditions to tow the vessel home, as the tide must be high enough for the ship and the tug to cross the sandbars in the River Medway.
The paddle steamer was due off the slipway at Ramsgate on December 11, but the winch jammed and the move had to be postponed.
The work carried out in Thanet has been part of an ongoing mission to restore her to her former glory which began in the 1980s.
Pam Bathurst, of the Medway Queen Preservation Society, told how the focus of volunteers now is to fit a bar to generate extra income to complete her restoration.
“We want to hire her out for parties, functions and corporate meetings so she can generate her own income,” she said.
“The income we have is mainly from members’ subscriptions and donations. We have had no income from the government at all.”
Mrs Bathurst said the recent maintenance work cost £150,000 – and estimates it will take a lot more cash to make her sea-worthy again.
“The guys in the workshop reckon that if someone came along with £5 million, you could get the ship back to sea within two years,” she added.
“Hopefully, we will be able to persevere with it.
“If somebody was generous enough to give it to us, we could probably do it – but it is only guesswork. The labour is free because we are volunteers.”
Mrs Bathurst said she was “so emotional” when she saw the completed maintenance work in Ramsgate. She said the ship was a "wreck" when they took the project on.
“When we first bought the ship in 1984, we never dreamt we would have such a beautiful ship on our hands in 2022,” she added. “She looked absolutely gorgeous.”
The Medway Queen was hailed as the Heroine of Dunkirk for her vital role in saving 7,000 Allied troops from the beaches of northern France in 1940.
When the war started she was used to evacuate children away from London and then used a minesweeper.
Mrs Bathurst said: "Because she was on minesweeping duties already she was one of the first of the Little Ships to arrive in Dunkirk. She then made seven trips and saved over 7,000 soldiers. She was one of the last to leave Dunkirk too. The government at the time gave her the title the Heroine of Dunkirk."
After the war, she was refitted for civilian use and became a floating nightclub off the Isle of Wight, and also carried out pleasure trips to Southend and along the Kent coast.
After suffering damage to her hull, she was towed back to the River Medway on a pontoon in 1984, where she fell into disrepair.
The Medway Queen Preservation Society was then formed, with an ambitious long-term plan to get repairs done, and through tireless fundraising efforts vital work has been carried out on the ship.
A £1.8 million grant was eventually secured from the National Lottery Heritage Fund towards rebuilding the ship's hull and she spent years in Bristol while the repairs were carried out.
She still has the same engine as when she was built in 1924.
Now back in Gillingham, volunteers plan to open to the Medway Queen to the public from February onwards. She’ll be open on Saturdays, as before, from 11am to 4pm (last admissions 3pm).
Mrs Bathurst said opening up the ship and being able to hire her out in the future will generate some much needed income to help complete the restoration.
.She added: "Because she saved so many men in the Second World War, we owe it to her to save her and to keep her going for future generations."