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Page last updated at 14:29 GMT, Friday, 21 May 2010 15:29 UK
The 'little ships' sail across the channel to Dunkirk

Jon Kay reports from on board one of the little ships heading for Dunkirk

The sea between Ramsgate and Dunkirk was transformed into a re-enactment of one of World War II's most important operations.

Around 50 "little ships" marked the 70th anniversary of Operation Dynamo in which over 300,000 allied troops were rescued from the French coast.

The small armada set sail for Dunkirk on Thursday 27 May.

After commemorations in France, they returned to the Kent port on Bank Holiday Monday, 31 May.

The Admiralty have made an Order requesting all owners of self-propelled pleasure craft between 30' and 100' in length to send all particulars to the Admiralty within 14 days from today if they have not already been offered or requisitioned.
BBC announcement, 14 May 1940

Following the call to small boat owners, 1,200 small ships were offered to assist in the emergency evacuation of troops from the French coast, code named Operation Dynamo. Ramsgate harbour was the marshalling point for the boats before their rescue mission.

As a result of the Operation, a flotilla of Little Ships and a considerable fleet of Naval and Merchant Marine vessels operated off the Dunkirk beaches and the harbour between 28 May and 4 June 1940 with no less than 338,000 British and French troops being evacuated.

The BBC weather map of the day of the crossing
The BBC weather map of the day of the crossing

The flotilla in Ramsgate, in Kent, was cheered by rain-soaked crowds as it set sail for Dunkirk, in north-east France, at 0700 BST.

BBC correspondent Jon Kay was on board the Greta, the oldest of the Little Ships that brought back hundreds of hungry and exhausted men 70 years ago.

He was joined by Brian de Mattos whose father Basil commanded the Greta during its dangerous mission.

Mr de Mattos said: "It's a great honour for me to be following in my father's footsteps 70 years later. To see all these little ships is really quite an emotional time.

"My father made many trips in and out of Dunkirk harbour often under fire from the enemy".

As the boats entered Dunkirk they were greeted by a French piper.

Richard Basey, who was among the first to arrive, said the journey across the channel had been ideal.

He said: "It has been excellent. The sea conditions were very kind to us. The wind had dropped completely. We have had a very good crossing."

He said it was important to remember that many died during the war. He said: "We are here to celebrate and remember the losses."

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