Some 'Operation Dynamo' Memories, Part Two

Featured in the August 2010 handbook.

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The late Dorothy Parker, daughter-in-law of Harry Parker, brother of Ted (Edward Duck Parker) the Coxswain of the then Margate Lifeboat ‘THE LORD SOUTHBOROUGH’ which, of course, went to Dunkirk with her crew of Margate men and served with distinction working off the beaches, had vivid memories of those dark days. Along with the late Nora Doughty she had been a founder member of the Nursing Section of the Margate Ambulance Corps when it was formed in the mid-1930s. She recalled to me how, on the 28th of May, she and her colleagues were told to, “Get down to the Jetty”. When they asked why no explanation was forthcoming, just a repeat of the blunt order. So off they went as they had been told and the reason for their very terse instruction soon became apparent when, in the afternoon sunshine, vessels crowded with khaki-clad cargoes of men from the B.E.F., snatched to safety from the inferno that was Dunkirk, started to arrive at Margate’s famous old Jetty - day-trippers of a very different kind but just as pleased to see Margate as their peacetime counterparts had been. One very grateful and relieved Cockney soldier was heard by Dorothy Parker to say,

“I’ve ‘ad many ‘appy outin’s to Margit, but this is the best of all!”

The first vessel to arrive was the paddle steamer ‘SANDOWN’ which delivered 201 men, and she was followed by another paddler ‘GRACIE FIELDS’ with a further 281. ‘GRACIE FIELDS’ had been requisitioned as a Naval Minesweeper, and she was sadly lost to bombing as she was leaving Dunkirk with troops on the 30th of May. Over the next week over 100 vessels brought to Margate one seventh of the grand total of all those rescued from Dunkirk.

The emergency services and townsfolk all worked ceaselessly to care for the wounded, and there are many of those landed here, and to see to the pressing needs of the exhausted troops, many of whom had lost their clothing during their ordeal. The town and surrounding area were scoured for food and drink to supply the needs for their men, and townsfolk gladly gave from the meagre stocks in their larders. Appeals for clothing met with an overwhelming response with 2000 shirts, vast amounts of underwear, hundreds of coats and trousers and over 200 blankets appearing from the half empty town.

Whilst parties from the town ranged from all over East Kent to secure what meagre supplies could be found, those in Margate soon having been exhausted, the job of feeding the troops went unabated. It was estimated that 100,000 cups of tea were served as the troops transited through the town on their way to the special trains that whisked them away, and they all got something to eat. A great problem during the first few days was finding footwear for the boys as lots of footwear had been left in France, but once again the town turned up trumps with hundreds of pairs being found. Eventually the Army got it’s act together, and supplies of boots and uniform began to appear from the Quartermaster’s Store of the Dover Garrison.

Although East Kent buses were laid on to ferry troops to the Railway Station, some actually made the journey along the seafront on foot, but everybody first faced that long trudge down the Jetty. Obviously, there was no time to be lost in delivering some of the more seriously wounded to the medical teams waiting for them, and a brave decision was taken to drive the motor ambulance of the Margate Ambulance Corps up the Jetty in order to save precious time. The Jetty had a deck of 2-inch planks, and it is a wonder the ambulance did not drop through it into the sea but in another small miracle of Dunkirk it did not, although some of those present at the time told me that the poor old Jetty was creaking and groaning as it swayed to this unaccustomed load for which it had never been designed. There is no doubt this decision saved many lives as time, as always, is critical in medical matters.

PART THREE NEXT MONTH

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