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Piece of history with local ties being renovated

POSTED: May 7, 2009 11:55 a.m.
Photo courtesy of www.medwayqueen.co.uk/

This painting illustrates one of the Medway Queen's trips evacuating troops during the Miracle at Dunkirk.

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There is a unique historical restoration project going on in the Medway River near the Isle of Wight, but Liberty Countians — though welcome — are unlikely to visit the attraction.
The Medway Queen, a coastal paddlewheel ship built in 1924, is being restored.
Ben Chambers of Lake George is a direct link between the Medway River near Midway and the Medway in Great Britain. Chambers said he grew up with the restoration of the Medway Queen. His parents, John and Noreen Chambers, have been involved in the restoration effort. “It has been part of my life and my family’s life,” Chambers said.
He is a member of the Medway Queen Preservation Society and said he likes to wear the MQPS T-shirt. “People always ask about that and it gives me an opportunity to tell the story.”
The Queen was the last of the many paddlewheel steamers that plied the coastal waters of the United Kingdom. Her most dramatic voyages were made May 26-June 4, 1940, as part of what became known as the “Miracle of Dunkirk.”
During the darkest days of World War II, Adolph Hitler’s forces smashed the Allied front in Great Britain and French and British units retreated to the channel coast where it was expected they would be forced to surrender.
Then came Operation Dynamo during which thousands of various vessels sailed from England, picked up soldiers waiting on the beach head at Dunkirk and returned them to safety. The ships repeated the rescue operation continuously, 24 hours a day. They were continually bombed and strafed by German aircraft.
Experts at the time estimated that 20,000 or 30,000 soldiers could be rescued as German ground troops closed in. However, the original estimate didn’t figure in the fishermen, pleasure boaters, ferrymen and volunteers who piloted boats of every kind across the English Channel to rescue Allied soldiers.
Although equipped for war as a minesweeper, The Medway Queen helped with the evacuation. The British Navy says it alone saved 7,000 soldiers in seven trips.
Different experts cite different numbers, but most agree that 200,000- 300,000 were rescued from Dunkirk. The success of the operation was so celebrated that Prime Minister Winston Churchill issued a warning.
“We must be very careful not to assign to this deliverance the attributes of a victory. Wars are not won by evacuations.”
After the war, the Queen returned to coastal service until 1964 when she was sold to a Belgian shipbreaker. When the shipbreaker learned the “Heroine of Dunkirk” was in his hands, he refused to demolish the Queen and held onto the ship until a group of businessmen bought it.
The MQ was converted into a floating nightclub on the Isle of Wight in England, which is the namesake for Liberty County’s Isle of Wight. The ship’s success as a nightclub was her undoing. The investors sold the Queen in 1984 to purchase a larger ship and the buyers, a group of businessmen, brought her back to Chatham, England, with plans to restore her, but she languished.
The next year, the preservation society was organized and took ownership of the Medway Queen. During the next 25 years, the society has used fundraisers, volunteer labor, publicity and appeals to officials to bring her back to life. Reconstruction of the hull started in November.
 

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