Some ‘Operation Dynamo’ Memories, Part One

Featured in the July 2010 handbook.

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In 1999, with the 60th anniversary of Dunkirk pending, I appealed in the Dunkirk Veterans Association magazine for any of their members landed here to contact me with a view to correspondence regarding their experience . I was very gratified as the response as Old Father Time’s relentless harvest memories not gathered then would be lost forever. As a result, I learned a lot and put some previously unrecorded names to the list of those vessels. which arrived here, as well as increasing our knowledge of the total number of those who found safety here from the absolute hell of Dunkirk. I also made it a point to gather for prosperity the memories of local folk who were involved at this end, as even then their number was dwindling rapidly. Now, a decade further on, those memories are precious. and with the 70th anniversary fresh in the mind, and Margate’s vital role quite disgracefully having yet again warranted little more than a passing mention from the media, I think that this is an apt time to tell that story again.

For Margate May, 1940, looked bleak. Normally at that time the town would be sprucing itself up for the holiday season, but given the rapidly unfolding events of the Nazi charge through Europe the prospect of any kind of season that year was poor indeed. Many people had already left the town to what they considered safer areas, and lots of the hotels and boarding houses were shut and deserted. Still, the locals had three thousand troops stationed in the town in their defensive positions, a reassuring presence in the light of the news, albeit scarce, about events on the Continent. But the ‘Phoney War’ was about to take a serious turn.

Towards the end of May the police and emergency services were told to secretly were told to put their units in high state of readiness in order to deal with an as then unspecified emergency, and early in the morning of the 27th they were briefed to be on the highest alert as, “ something had gone wrong over the other side”. Many of those involved at the time told me they had no idea of the serious events about to unfold. The ridiculous security decision not to tell them about the B.E.F. in France meant to them that the implied pending emergency which they were supposed to be getting ready to deal with was, in all probability an invasion.. Whilst we, with the benefit on hindsight, know that was not the case, at the time it was a very real threat in the minds of the public, and that threat was greatly enhanced by the events that took place later that morning.

Margatonians were dismayed to see the Army pulling out of their carefully prepared defence positions and loading their equipment and weapons onto the truck, which then proceeded to pull out of town to establish a new defence line further inland. Naturally, this did nothing to bolster the confidence of the locals and actually served to increase the expectation of invasion and that the town would be expendable. The Jetty, scene of countless happy outings and events over the years was mined` with demolition charges to deny it use to the Germans should they arrive, and just two Sappers stayed behind to blow them if required. In the best British tradition nobody knew what was going on, either here in the town or over in France, apart from a very vague but persistent rumour that ‘people’ might be arriving in boats, but there was nothing definite.

In the afternoon of the 27th a party of the Royal Navy arrived and took over control of the Harbour and Jetty, making their H.Q. in the Droit House. Their was still no hint of what was to occur over the next few days and the town was ill-equipped for emergencies. There were no stores of food, blankets or clothing, and the Army had legged it with all their transport. Margate would have to cope on its own with whatever came its way!

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