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Page last updated at 14:35 GMT, Wednesday, 26 May 2010 15:35 UK
Poole Quay's Dunkirk little ship the Thomas Kirk Wright
Sue Paz, BBC Dorset
By Sue Paz
BBC Dorset

The Thomas Kirk Wright in service. Courtesy of the RNLI.
The Thomas Kirk Wright was a working lifeboat from 1938 to 1962

The Old Lifeboat Station on Poole Quay is home to a registered Dunkirk little ship, the Thomas Kirk Wright.

The boat was built in 1938 at Cowes, on the Isle of Wight.

She is one of only two surviving surf class lifeboats, and 70 years ago she took part in an epic journey to France, as part of WWII's Operation Dynamo.

Brian Traves, an RNLI volunteer at the Old Lifeboat Station which is now a museum, said: "She was in service from 1938 through to 1962.

"She had five crew members during service and she has twin engines which are 12 horse power each and fuelled by petrol, compared with today's vessels which have diesel engines and are around 600 horse power each.

Brian Traves, an RNLI volunteer at the Old  Lifeboat Station in Poole
RNLI volunteer Brian Traves helps give the boat 'tender loving care'

"The propulsion system was designed by Professor Hotchkiss - a member of the family which designed the Hotchkiss machine gun.

"It was developed locally in Parkstone Bay and built by Mitchell's Boatyard.

"It consists of impellers which are like inboard paddle wheels. Therefore, she has no propellers whatsoever and was fantastic for going right up to the beach - and indeed at Dunkirk this made her very, very useful.

"She was easily accessible and capable of taking in the region of 40 people at a time."

The rescue

The Thomas Kirk Wright was servicing the larger vessels during the Dunkirk rescue of 1940, such as the destroyers and paddle steamers, which were helping to bring British and Allied troops back to England from the beaches in France.

Brian said: "She sailed from Dover across to Dunkirk and returned three times.

"The last time she was towed over by a tug, because the tug could tow her at about 10 knots, whereas she is only capable of about six and a half knots.

"When she returned that final time she was carrying French seamen and had been badly damaged. She was machine gunned and one engine was out of action, but she still made it home.

The Thomas Kirk Wright at the Old Lifeboat Station in Poole
Today the boat is 'kept entirely as she was when she was in service'

"We have no idea of the total number of people she rescued during Dunkirk, but it must have been somewhere in the hundreds."

The major repair work to the Thomas Kirk Wright was carried out in Dover and further repairs were made when she returned to Poole.

From 1962 to 1975 she worked as a fishing boat and in 1975 she was returned to the RNLI, which gave her to the National Maritime Museum.

She was then fully restored to the manner in which she can be seen today.

Brian said: "Today she is looked after with tender loving care, under the supervision of the RNLI and the volunteers who work in the museum.

"Once a year she is carefully spring cleaned, but we try and keep her exactly original. You will see there's no polished brass work on her, she is kept entirely as she was when she was in service."

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