Heroine of Dunkirk is Being Restored to Her Former Glory

Drawing of Wartime Medway Queen - Artist: K.C. Lockwood
Drawing of Wartime Medway Queen – Artist: K.C. Lockwood

The Medway Queen was originally built as a recreational vessel in 1924. The vessel was used to take vacationers on trips around Kent for 15 years, until it was commissioned by the navy in 1939.

The boat was dubbed as the “Heroine of Dunkirk” in 1940. It was responsible for successfully rescuing British troops from Normandy.

However, the Heroine was left to rot dockside. There was a campaign in effect for nearly 30 years to save the boat. It looked hopeless until the Heritage Lottery Grant donated £1.86m to restore the Medway Queen.

The Medway Queen was one of the most famous “little ships” during WWII. It had brought more than 7,000 soldiers who were trapped on various beaches in various locations around the warring coastlines in 1940.

The restoration began in 2011 in Bristol. The ships hull was reconstructed in its original manner, with rivets, and the project has taken more than two years to complete.

Due to the size, this was the first ship to be build into this manner in more than 50 years.

The BBC reports there was a suspension of EU funding which held up the restoration process in March 2012. The restoration process picked back up a month later with the help of the European Commission.



In autumn of 1939, the Medway Queen was officially conscripted into the Navy when she was repainted from her original black, white and cream colors to don the classic battleship grey. With some alterations to the body to accommodate the mine sweeping gear and after some additional items were fitted; she was ready to go.

The first winter the Medway Queen was apart of the war was a harsh one. The ship was pulled by a tug boat to make it through the icy Thames River to continue its sweep of mines. The elements were not so kind on the Medway Queen and they left their marks on the ships body. She was called into the Chatham dockyard during December 1939 for repairs. When the repairs were complete a year later, the Medway Queen joined the 10th Paddle Minesweeping Flotilla with her pennant number being N48–but it was later changed to J48.

One heroic story of the Queen:

The ship approached Dover Harbor as an air-raid developed and the ship was successful in shooting down one of the enemy’s aircraft. While those on board celebrated, the Brighton Belle–another ship–tore the underside while sailing over a wreckage. While the Belle began taking on water, the Medway Queen saddled along side the Belle and took on all of the ships crew. No lives were lost, thanks to the Queen.

Evette Champion

Evette Champion is one of the authors writing for WAR HISTORY ONLINE