Veteren's Cruise to Hampton Court - Paul Gilson

Our Dunkirk little ship, Endeavour, was again invited to take part in the Veteran's cruise this year. It took place over two days, with its base at Hampton Court. Twenty vessels took part, all members of the Association of Dunkirk Little Ships.

On the Saturday the Endeavour had on board wives and veterans who had fought in Korea, the Middle East and South Atlantic. One old soldier, an artilleryman, had a "hearing dog" with him as his hearing had been damaged by gunnery. So, a very well-behaved black cocker spaniel enjoyed a trip down river to Richmond Lock. Later there was a well attended ceremony at a memorial at Teddington lock, marking the spot from where over 100 little ships left for Dunkirk in 1940. Many did not return. On our return to Hampton Court the veterans were provided with a buffet lunch by the Women’s Institute. 

On Sunday over a hundred veterans turned up, most had spent their service time in WWII. They were from many different groups but all services appeared to have been represented. It was remarkable to see and meet nine Dunkirk veterans, of course, an ever shrinking group. Among the other old soldiers, was the last surviving prisoner from Stalag 3 famous for 'the Great Escape'. He was in the tunnel when it was discovered, he was only 100 years old! Another centurion was a nurse, captured in Burma and held for four years by the Japanese. There were several veterans around this age and all were determined to be part of this trip. 

The Endeavour was honoured to be selected to take three Chelsea Pensioners, resplendent in their Scarlet coats. I was told off in no uncertain terms when I made a comment about the wonderful red coats they were wearing, “They’re scarlet not red!” they said indignantly. 

The energy from these older gentlemen was staggering. They did not sit down on our upriver trip to Weybridge. The Thames was lined with Flags, 1940’s music and people who had made special efforts to welcome and cheer on these brave people. Our veterans were still on a mission “Are you single?” our Glaswegian pensioner would ask much to the delight of the ladies lining the river banks. “You never know?” he said with a big smile. 

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