I’ve just come back from Dunkirk where we’ve been filming for the new Battle of Britain documentary I’m working on and got up horribly early to catch the wrecks that can still be seen at low tide. Unfortunately, it wasn’t early enough and already as I began a piece the tide was snapping at my heels. Annoyingly, I fluffed my lines a bit and so we decided to come back again later that evening just before the tide had turned. It was still pretty overcast – which was appropriate considering the thick smoke and cloud that covered Dunkirk during the evacuation – but the light was much better and most importantly, the wrecks were lying there for all to see.
I have to admit, I found it incredibly moving to see them there. We did a piece beside the remains of a small wooden ship, but we also had a good look at the Devonia, a pre-war Bristol Channel paddle steamer that had been commissioned by the Navy in 1939 and converted into a minesweeper. Joining the 7th Minesweeping Flotilla at Granton, she carried out a number of operations before heading to help with the evacuation on 30th May. She had been helping lift men from the beaches at La Panne but came under heavy air attack and although was not directly hit, suffered a number of near misses which caused no small amount of damage – and enough to make it unlikely that she would be able to make it back across the Channel. Instead, her skipper was ordered to beach her.
The Naval Staff History claims she was run aground to help as a makeshift pier at La Panne, but she’s now at Bray Dunes, so presumably the location of her beaching in the official history is incorrect. I must ask Steve Prince at the Naval Historical Branch if he knows the reason for this…
(This picture was taken by Andy – see his other shots on WW2TALK).