November 2019 Speaker
The November meeting was again well attended and the speakers were Mark and Pam Bathurst who travelled over from Kent to tell us about The Paddle Steamer Medway Queen, also known as The Heroine of Dunkirk.
The Medway Steam Packet Company was originally formed in 1837 and provided steamer services in the Chatham/Sheerness area initially, then after 1880 it built up a fleet of ships and at the beginning of WW1 ran regular services between Strood and Southend and two of their ships were requisitioned for naval duties.
The Medway Queen began construction in 1923 and was completed in 1924 with a budget of £21,500 (£1 Million equivalent today). Between the two wars the Medway Queen provided many excursions on the Thames and Medway rivers and round the coast to Kent ports. Passengers enjoyed good food and entertainment on those trips.
When WW2 broke out the ship was converted for minesweeping and armed with guns on the deck. It shot down three enemy planes in the English Channel. The ship's most famous time was when it was the first to arrive in Dunkirk on 4th June 1940 to help rescue our soldiers and actually did 7 trips across the channel, being the last to leave and having rescued about 7,000 men, that is why it was also called ‘The Heroine of Dunkirk’.
After the war the ship was refitted in 1953 and stayed in service until 1963 when it moved to the Isle of Wight where it became a Social Club and was very popular for weddings and other celebrations for a number of years. The Medway Queen Club finally closed mid 1970s and the boat fell into disrepair and was bought into Chatham dock and sadly left to rot away. It was re-floated I 1997 and obtained Heritage Lottery Money in 2006 to start the renovation.
The boat is now in the process of renovation at Gillingham dock in Kent and restoration costs will be in the region of £5 million which must be raised by grants and voluntary workers on the project. The original construction used traditional iron plate on a wooden frame riveted in place by hand, and the restoration is being made using these methods from the early 1900s. The project is also taking on young people as apprentices to encourage the younger generation to get involved in this work and skills from previous generations.