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Little Ships leave Ramsgate Harbour and return to Dunkirk

By James Rose

Dozens of the famous little ships set off for Dunkirk to cheers from a crowd of hundreds at Ramsgate Harbour this morning.

As part of celebrations to mark the 75th anniversary of Operation Dynamo the ships started their voyage at 7.30am. A Hurricane and Spitfire flew over Ramsgate just before 9am.

Little Ships leave for Dunkirk. Picture: Lola and Company
Little Ships leave for Dunkirk. Picture: Lola and Company

Crowds gathered at yesterday's celebrations with members of the public boarding the ships and listening to stories from survivors.

A service held in a 400-seater marquee at the harbour in tribute to the Dunkirk evacuation was followed by a parade with serving armed forces and associations.

Military planes. Stock pictures.
Military planes. Stock pictures.

Invited guest John Clemetson, 94, was a gunner rescued from Dunkirk after being stranded for two days of continuous bombing.

He has travelled from his home in Wokingham to return to Ramsgate for this first time since being rescued.

Little Ships at Ramsgate Harbour
Little Ships at Ramsgate Harbour

He said: "We had been in Ypres in Belgium and we ran out of ammunition and had to make our way to Dunkirk.

"The planes kept coming over while we were waiting to be saved. I don't remember being scared, I was only 19.

"A Dutch scoot called Oranje brought us back to Ramsgate - it was a big vessel and I was on board with about 1,000 others.

Watch: The miracle of Dunkirk

"This is my first visit back to Ramsgate, I decided if I didn't go now I wouldn't get a chance! Everybody is getting very old of course but this week's celebrations are a fitting tribute."

After returning to Ramsgate Mr Clemetson was put on a train and shortly after returned to join his brigade in the middle east.

He added: "We had been there for a while, I forget how long, but in 1942 I was taken prisoner in the Gazala line, the whole brigade was caught. I spent three years as a prisoner of war."

The Ramsgate Home Guard - Private Nigel Pryor (left), Captain Bob Pryor (middle) and Major Vernon Mee (right)
The Ramsgate Home Guard - Private Nigel Pryor (left), Captain Bob Pryor (middle) and Major Vernon Mee (right)
Dunkirk survivor John Clemetson
Dunkirk survivor John Clemetson

Captain of the Ramsgate home guard Bob Pryor said the day had been a proud moment.

He said: "It's been a wonderful occasion and it's nice to see Ramsgate in the limelight, we are all very proud of what the people of Ramsgate did 75 years ago and the service was very fitting."

Major General Charles Ramsay
Major General Charles Ramsay

An inspection of the ships was carried out in the afternoon by the son of Admiral Bertram Ramsay, who spearheaded the evacuation in 1940.

Lord Lieutenant Viscount De L'Isle (left), Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports Michael Boyce (middle) and the Bishop of Dover Trevor Willmott (right).
Lord Lieutenant Viscount De L'Isle (left), Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports Michael Boyce (middle) and the Bishop of Dover Trevor Willmott (right).

Organiser Angie Sutton said: “We need crowds lining the east and west pier to cheer them off.”

While the ships are in Dunkirk at the weekend tea dances will take place at the harbour with 1940s music.

Mrs Sutton added: “There will be lots happening, with the Dynamo Museum, Ramsgate Tunnels, Spitfire and Hurricane Museum, Ramsgate Maritime Museum. The RNLI will have a lovely display called Dunkirk – The Lifeboats’ Story.

“There will be mini tanks on the beach, a funfair, a 1940s Homefront bus, community stage with some great local acts as well as the P&O Choir.

Operation Dynamo 75th anniversary
Operation Dynamo 75th anniversary

“There is a once-in-a-lifetime chance to board the Medway Queen – the “heroine of Dunkirk” at Ramsgate as she will be berthed on the commercial quay alongside a handmade fair and some lovely vintage cars.”

A small number of little ships are set to return to Ramsgate at about 2pm on Monday, when a parachute flare will signal their arrival.

More information about Operation Dynamo celebrations can be found at www.operationdynamo75th.co.uk and tickets to tea dances can be booked with Angie Sutton on 01843 230779.

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