I went with my wife to the Thames traditional Boat Festival which is held on the River Thames at Henley-on Thames and is a gathering of traditional wooden boats together with quite a number of the surviving boats which went over to Dunkirk in 1940 to rescue our troops from the Normandy beaches and are Members of the Association of Dunkirk Little Ships.
We stayed at Leander Club which was founded in 1818 and is a private Members’ club that boasts an unsurpassed record in rowing achievements, the bedrooms of which are all decorated with rowing memorabilia and were joined for dinner by our friends Francis and Tracey which was rather nice as we haven’t seen them for some time.
This is the story of the formation of the Association, in Spring 1964 Raymond Baxter purchased one of the Little Ships and that Summer was flying to France by British Air Ferries for a family holiday. The plane flew over Dunkirk and he pointed the Beaches out to his son, Graham, who was then 13 years old. Graham asked his father if he realised that the next year (1965) it would be 25 years since ‘L’ORAGE’ had been “doing her thing down there so why don’t we take her back?”
To cut a long story short, Raymond approached the Sunday Times (whose then Editor, Dennis Hamilton, was rescued from the Beaches). A letter from Raymond was published in the Sunday Times in October 1964 saying that he planned to take his Little Ship back the following June, and if any other owners wished to join him would they please write to the newspaper. The Sunday Times had agreed to help with the organisation if they got 12 replies. 43 boats made the crossing from Ramsgate with Royal Naval assistance and support from the RNLI. The BBC provided Radio and Television coverage.
At a cocktail party given by the Sunday Times in December 1965 to show off their Press coverage, both Commander Charles Lamb and John Knight (who had participated in the Return) separately suggested to Raymond Baxter (who already had similar thoughts) that an Association should be formed.
All of these boats are absolutely stunning but some of them are absolutely Concours and are in far better condition than they would have been when new and are a joy to see, including Raymond Baxter’s boat L’ORANGE.
We went in my 1947 Bentley Mk VI and dressed in our forties outfits and as I had become a Member of the Tames Traditional Boat Festival we had tickets for the Member’s Enclosure and what with a flying display by a Spitfire from the Battle of Britain Memorial flight and a display by two WW1 triplanes, one RAF and one German, all in all a jolly fine weekend was had by all.