Three of us went out today on a relatively short ride mainly because of time constraints. After dropping off the last two ride hoodies to team members just down the road we headed off from The Historic Dockyard towards Fort Amherst and then up onto the Great Lines and Chatham Naval Memorial. It’s worth the climb – the view is amazing, and the naval memorial is something that anyone living in the Medway Towns should go and see.
From there we went down (and I really do mean down) through Gillingham, past the Royal Engineers Museum (unfortunately closed at the moment) and onto the Universities at Medway site, the old Pembroke Barracks, via the Lower Lines Park.
It was at this point I suggested we popped to see the Medway Queen, one of the surviving Dunkirk little boats – although in reality she’s not all that ‘little’.
While taking photos we bumped into Brian Goodhew, someone I knew from the Dockyard and a leading member of the Medway Queen Preservation Society – and he offered to show us around the visitor’s centre and the vessel.
The centre explains the early days of the ship’s life, her routes and her conversion for wartime service which included the addition of a 12lb gun on the bow (last used in the Dardanelles campaign of the First World War – but still reasonably effective as it shot down three aircraft during the Second World War) and a Hotchkiss gun on the top of each of the paddle covers. It also involved the removal of the aft deck and installation of minesweeping gear as well as some scant protection for the bridge crew. Post war she went to the Isle of Wight as a club and bar before falling into disrepair, moving around the country a bit and eventually sinking next to the Dockyard in Chatham (she was moved there just before the yard closed).
Here she is in a wonderfully grainy image in her heyday.
And here she is during the war.
The largest single part of the centre covers her use during Operation Dynamo – the evacuation of British troops from Dunkirk. If you don’t know much about the operation READ MORE HERE! Or you can just wait for the Christopher Nolan helmed, Cillian Murphy, Tom Hardy, Kenneth Branagh, Harry Styles film to come out later this year… Trailer below.
The Medway Queen rescued 7,000 troops on seven separate trips in the space of nine days. She is not large – 1,000 people would definitely be a tight squeeze.
Some lottery money, a new hull built in Bristol and a lot of work later and she’s now floating again on the Medway at Gillingham Pier, a stone’s throw away from the large, new Asda supermarket.
The second part of the visit was a tour of the vessel itself. It wasn’t supposed to be open, so it was crawling with volunteers scrubbing, cleaning and tidying. It is still very much a work in progress. You can see the original engines, move through the lower deck and across the weatherdeck and we got a sneak peak of a not yet opened exhibition in the stern.
It did cut into our ride time a bit, but it was worth it.
After leaving the Medway Queen we cycled around St Mary’s Island and then back home. Only about ten miles, but generally time well spent.
The Medway Queen and the Visitor’s Centre is normally open from 11am – 3pm every Saturday (although they’d appreciate it if you didn’t turn up at 2:55 – it doesn’t really leave much time for the tour). I’m sure they’d also appreciate volunteers if you’re interested.