Rescuing 3,000 from Dunkirk beaches: 1940

‘The Prudential’ renamed ‘Trimilia’, in Ipswich, 2007

This extract tells the tale of one of the Dunkirk ‘Little Ships’; Ramsgate lifeboat ‘The Prudential’, now renamed ‘Trimilia’. As a consequence of the coronavirus pandemic, the Association of Dunkirk Little Ships (ADLS) decided to postpone the Return to Dunkirk planned for May, 2020 to commemorate the 80th anniversary of Operation Dynamo.

On 14 May 1940 the BBC announced: “The Admiralty have made an Order requesting all owners of self-propelled pleasure craft between 30′ and 100′ in length to send all particulars to the Admiralty within 14 days from today if they have not already been offered or requisitioned.” A fortnight later, ‘Operation Dynamo’, the contingency plan for evacuation, was launched in response to a secret message from the War Office to the Admiralty.

I cannot see who you are. Are you a naval party?
No Sir, we are men of the crew of the Ramsgate life-boat.
Thank you and thank God for such good men as you have on this night proved to be. There is a party of fifty Highlanders coming next.

An extract from the coxswain’s report as attached to the RNLI report of service relating to the 31 May and 1 June 1940.

‘The Prudential’, as she was then named, having been paid for by The Prudential Assurance Company Limited, was the 1925 built prototype Ramsgate class lifeboat and was one of the few boats which was taken to Dunkirk by her own crew. Howard Knight, the coxswain, with gas masks and steel helmets set out on Thursday 30 May 1940 towing seven wherries filled with supplies of water for the waiting troops. He also took in tow the punt ‘Carama’ which belonged to the lifeboat’s second coxswain. All the boats discharged their water and other supplies as soon as they arrived on the beaches. The lifeboat had to lie off because of her deeper draft and the naval ratings who manned the wherries had some difficulty handling them through the breaking seas. Members of the lifeboat crew therefore took their places and managed to establish communications with the officers in charge of the troops ashore.

The soldiers were ferried out in batches of eight, which was all the small boats could take, as far as the lifeboat which then took them out to transport ships. Two thousand eight hundred men were rescued by ‘The Prudential’ in this way, packing in up to 160 soldiers at a time. On the way home, ‘The Prudential’ helped by putting her engineer aboard a 500-ton ship, the ‘SS Rian’ whose engines were failing and thus got her back to Ramsgate. ‘The Prudential’ towed a string of small craft full of troops on the return journey, including the punt ‘Carama’. They had been under constant enemy attack for forty hours and on their return found not only major damage from shrapnel, but a hole in their bottom. Coxswain Howard Knight was awarded the DSM for his service to the cause.
RNLI Ramsgate

Annual Commemorative Cruise

Re-named ‘Trimilia’, in recognition of her rescue of over 3000 persons in total, she has been kept in Suffolk since the early 1960s. In 2007, ‘Trimilia’ joined other Dunkirk ‘Little ships’ at their Annual Commemorative Cruise, held at Ipswich again 25 – 27 May 2013.

‘Trimilia’: her story