In light of the July release of war film, Dunkirk, we shine a spotlight on the Kent district of Thanet, which has a number of ties to World War Two via tunnels, graves and ships.
The blockbuster commemorates the valiant actions of those involved in the evacuation of thousands of troops from the beaches of Dunkirk in 1940.
The evacuation was codenamed ‘Operation Dynamo’ and was undertaken by an odd assortment of yachts, motor cruisers and fishing boats that were able to sail close enough to Dunkirk’s beaches to pick up troops.
The boats, which become known as ‘little ships’, were able to ferry those troops back to the waiting freighters, passenger ships and warships, or back to the harbours of Margate and Ramsgate.
4,200 little ships left from Ramsgate Harbour to rescue troops from Dunkirk and 80,000 men were brought back to safety. In Margate, meanwhile, 46,722 soldiers were brought home from Dunkirk.
On the 60th anniversary of Dunkirk, Dame Vera Lynn unveiled a plaque at Ramsgate Harbour to commemorate Thanet’s role in the Dunkirk evacuation. Today, visitors can explore the region’s tourist attractions to discover more of the area’s links to World War Two, and perhaps even find their own Dunkirk spirit.
1. Ramsgate Tunnels
As World War Two approached, two miles of bomb-proof deep shelter tunnels were built in Ramsgate to protect the civilian population of the town. These tunnels became a ‘town within a town’ when, in August 1940, around 300 families took to living in the tunnels on a permanent basis as 500 German bombs were dropped on the town in just five minutes.
Pictured: A Ramsgate Tunnels Tour.
Today it is possible to book a tour of these underground tunnels and learn about life underground from recordings of those who took refuge there. Tours run Wednesday to Sunday at 10am, 12pm, 2pm and 4pm until end October. From October to March there is no 4pm tour.
2. Margate Museum
In Margate, groups can visit the World War Two room at the town’s local museum and see displays on rationing, gas masks and other military memorabilia. There is also a display relating to Dunkirk and models of two paddle steamers which transported over 10,000 of the 48,000 men back to Margate from Dunkirk.
Group visits are welcome and guided tours can be arranged.
3. Ramsgate Blitz Walks
Ramsgate is said to have been the most heavily bombed seaside town in Britain, and guided walks throughout the summer season visit the places that were significantly damaged or played a part in the town’s World War Two history.
The walks start from Ramsgate Library and last about two hours. Private walks for groups can be arranged, and are free.
Pictured: Royal Harbour Ramsgate. (Photo credit: Thanet Tourism).
4. Little ship Sundowner
Sundowner was built in 1912 as a motor yacht. On 1st June 1940, in company with five other ships, Sundowner crossed the channel to Dunkirk and saved 130 men. On their arrival back to Ramsgate, the vessel was nearly sunk by the weight of troops moving to one side of the ship to disembark.
The ship was restored in 1990 to take part in the 50th anniversary Dunkirk commemorations. Groups today can see Sundowner from Pier Yard in front of Ramsgate Maritime Museum, adjacent to the Dunkirk Memorial Stone Plaque.
5. St. Peter’s Village churchyard
For those who’d like to learn more of the soldiers, a World War Two graves tour in Broadstairs is available at St. Peter’s Churchyard. There are 14 servicemen buried there whose stories can be heard, as well as those of five local firemen who were killed by enemy action whilst on duty.
Tours run on selected dates throughout the year, are free, and last 90 minutes.
These ideas have been provided by Thanet Tourism; group travel organisers can find out more about what to do in the area by visiting www.visitthanet.co.uk.
Lead image: Sundowner. (Photo credit: Thanet Tourism).