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RememberSchiff

Sea Scouts at Dunkirk

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June, 1940

 

" It can now be revealed that Sea Scouts played an important part in the epic of Dunkirk - A thrilling story is told by the Group Scout Master of Mortlake Sea Scouts."

 

Most people are aware of Operation Dynamo which evacuated the British Expeditionary Force of over 300,000 personnel from the beaches of Dunkirk in May and June 1940. Few would realize that Sea Scouts played their part amongst ‘the little ships of Dunkirk’ of saving the British Army from capture and allowing them to fight another day.

 

The following extract (link below - RS) was written by the Group Scout Master of the Mortlake Sea Scout Group which crewed the 45ft motor picket boat Minotaur during Operation Dynamo. The Scout Master is believed to be Mr Tom Towndrow and he received Admiralty orders on the night of 29 May to sail the Minotaur to a staging area in the Thames Estuary to wait further instructions by the Royal Navy.

 

http://www.scoutsrecords.org/explore.php?dil=&icerik=87&bparent=CB6FCCF1AB7A8F1765FC3A9D09C9ACAE&

 

http://history.scoutingradio.net/minotaur.htm

 

 

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On 31 May 1940, Sundowner was requisitioned by the Admiralty to sail to Dunkirk to assist in the evacuation. Lightoller, aged 66 and retired, volunteered to take her, along with his eldest son Roger, and Gerald Ashcroft, an 18-year-old Sea Scout.[3]

 

Leaving Port of Ramsgate at 10:00[3] on 1 June, the yacht crossed the Channel in company with five other ships. On their way, they rescued the crew of the motor cruiser Westerly, which had broken down and was on fire.[1] On arrival at Dunkirk, Lightoller realized that the piers were too high, and so drew alongside the destroyer HMS Worcester and started to take on soldiers. Seventy-five men were crammed into the cabin, and another fifty-five on deck, a total of 130.[2]Sundowner then returned to Ramsgate, avoiding fire from enemy aircraft through evasive manoeuvres on the way, though the greatest danger was being swamped by the wash from fast-moving destroyers. After disembarking the troops, she was preparing to return for France for another load, but by then only ships capable of doing 20 knots were allowed to continue.[1]

 

Sundowner remained in service as a coastal patrol vessel in the River Blackwater, Essex. She then moved to the River Clyde under the control of 647 Transport Company, Royal Army Service Corps.[2] She was released from service in 1945, and after a refit was returned to Lightoller in 1946, and once again used as a family boat.[1]

 

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sundowner_(yacht)

Edited by RememberSchiff
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It kinda puts the whole idea of Be Prepared into perspective. What better way to exemplify "On my honor I will do my best to do my duty to God and my country...and to help other people at all times."

Edited by Stosh
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Wouldn't happen today.

 

Hard to say. "Any ship in a storm."

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Hard to say. "Any ship in a storm."

 

We have parents that won't let their kid go to summer camp without mommy texting them all day. I think you'd be hard pressed to find many American parents that would let their boys do something like this. You'd find some no doubt, but not many.

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Wouldn't happen today.

 Yes, no, maybe, perhaps.

 

Worth considering a few things here. 

 

Dunkirk was possibly the darkest hour in the UK's history. While the story of the Dunkirk miracle has persisted it is a work of propaganda. The period April-June 1940 was an unmitigated disaster for the British military. At Dunkirk we came perilously close to losing the army. As it was while most of the troops did get home most of them returned with only the boots they were stood up in and their personal weapons. They left behind all the tanks and artillery which in itself was the bulk of what the British army had in 1940. That summer there was little doubt that Germany would attempt an invasion and those men would be needed to resist it. The Battle of Britain air battle that stopped that happening was itself a properly close run thing and it was only the massive error of the German airforce switching to bombing cities rather than airfields that changed it's course.

 

Have little doubt what a dire position the UK and indeed the world was in. If the UK has been defeated there would have been no chance of an allied invasion of France and Germany may even have been able to divert sufficient resources to defeat the Soviet Union. In which case what would the world look like now?

 

Of course we'll never know, but nevertheless it took a situation that desperate to get sea scouts into the war like that. There hasn't been a situation like it for the UK either before or since. 

 

If we were in a situation like that again who knows? (although the advent of nuclear weapons would probably preclude that position ever being reached)

 

Second my understanding is that the scouts involved at Dunkirk were senior scouts (15-18 year olds) so even the youngest were not that far off the current minimum age for joining the armed forces of 16 anyway.

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Interestingly, one of the vintage kid's historical fiction books from '62 has 3 characters who are scouts. John Tunis's "Silence Over Dunkerque" is about a sergeant trying to get his men back to England after losing the rest of his company. He's from Dover or Deal or Ramsgate and as a very minor plot point his 2 scout sons go over on one of the tiny ships with a neighbor, without their mothers knowledge, and bring back a load of soldiers before being scared witless in retrospect at the danger and going back home. The heroine of the novel is a girl scout/guide in France who manages to smuggle the soldier out at great personal risk. She is originally identified as a scout and her motivations shown when he recognizes her necker.

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