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Red Funnel commemorates the 80th anniversary of Dunkirk and reflects on its role in the evacuation

Wed, Jul 15 2020

Red Funnel Ferries is commemorating the anniversary of Dunkirk (26 May – 4 June 1940) and reflecting on its own involvement in the evacuation of the British Expeditionary Force as it continues to operate a lifeline service 80 years later.

Over 338,000 soldiers were rescued by a hastily assembled fleet of over 800 vessels at Dunkirk, in a mission known as ‘Operation Dynamo’. This included six vessels operated by Red Funnel as well as two vessels the company acquired following the war. Red Funnel is incredibly proud of its historic role in directly supporting the Dunkirk evacuations by rescuing almost 6,000 men from the beaches and visiting the shore 13 times between late May and early June 1940.

In recognition of Red Funnel’s involvement, The Dunkirk Little Ships Association recently awarded the cross-Solent ferry operator with The Little Ships ‘House Flag’, a flag of St. George with the Dunkirk crest. Usually reserved for vessels, the flag was presented along with a plaque to acknowledge the role that Red Funnel’s steamers and crews played in such a historic event.

The six vessels deployed and operated by Red Funnel during the Dunkirk evacuation were Princess Helena, Solent Queen, Princess Elizabeth, Gracie Fields, MV Vecta and Duchess of Cornwall. Red Funnel later went on to acquire the Emperor of India and Queen of Thanet, which also took part in the rescue missions, the latter renamed to Solent Queen as it replaced the retiring vessel of the same name.

Sadly, Gracie Fields did not return home from Dunkirk along with the rest of the Red Funnel vessels as she was dive bombed when leaving the beaches for a second time and sank early on the morning of 30th May 1940.

Of all the eight vessels, Princess Elizabeth, which rescued 1,673 men over four trips, is the only remaining vessel in existence. She is moored in Dunkirk harbour where she is now used as a floating restaurant and recently featured in the battle scenes of Christopher Nolan’s 2017 blockbuster film, ‘Dunkirk’.

In a twist of fate, another of the Dunkirk Little Ships, Caronia, featured in the movie, is owned by one of Red Funnel’s Engineering Officers, Lewis Draper and his family who have lovingly restored her over the past 18 years.

Fran Collins, CEO of Red Funnel, commented: “We are so proud to have played a part in the historic events of Dunkirk, which saw a fleet of vessels of all sizes coming together with a common goal. This feels particularly poignant as we continue to provide our lifeline service throughout the current global pandemic.  

“Sadly this year’s anniversary events have been postponed but we hope to get involved when the time is right and until then, we remember and continue to do our part 80 years later as we proudly sail 365 days a year, no matter the circumstances.”




For further information regarding Red Funnel, please contact:

Enya Lumley or Mel Piercy at McKenna Townsend

T: 01425 472330
E: [email protected]


Editor’s note

About Red Funnel

Red Funnel is the original Isle of Wight ferry company with roots tracing back to 1820. Based in the UK port of Southampton, Red Funnel carries 2.3m passengers and over 800,000 vehicles on its ferry route between the UK port of Southampton and East Cowes and 1.1m passengers between Southampton and West Cowes on its Red Jet Hi-Speed service.  In addition to ferry travel, Red Funnel is the only cross-Solent operator to offer ferry inclusive bonded holiday accommodation, attraction tickets, festival and event tickets and activity packages. Sub-brands include ‘Red Jet’ (the Hi-Speed passenger only ferry service serving West Cowes) and two food & beverage brands, ‘Steam Coffee Company’ and ‘ReFuel’.  The Company is a founder member of Visit Isle of Wight Ltd, the Island’s not for profit destination management organisation and Red Funnel sponsors or supports most of the Island’s premier events including the IW Festival, Cowes Week, Rhythm Tree, The Great Wonderfest, Wight Proms, Cowes Classics, and Walk the Wight as well as a range of community and niche interest events. Red Funnel’s Charity of the Year, 2020 is Isle of Wight Independent Lifeboats.

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