Newspaper article Evening Chronicle (Newcastle, England)

Tyne Ships' Heroic Part at Dunkirk; Crews Made It Seem Routine

Newspaper article Evening Chronicle (Newcastle, England)

Tyne Ships' Heroic Part at Dunkirk; Crews Made It Seem Routine

Article excerpt

THE Miracle of Dunkirk - we have all read about the fantastic effort of those little ships from the South Coast which rescued 337,000 men from the beaches of Dunkirk and changed the course of the Second World War.

But this article tells of the massive part played in the operation by vessels of the Tyne-Tees Steamship Company. The featured telegram was to the ship The Gateshead, with direct orders for the Dunkirk operation, along with many other Tyne ships.

Unlike the D-Day invasion there was little or no time to prepare for the evacuation of the thousands of troops stranded on the beaches. Red tape had to go overboard and the whole scheme worked because the men and ships engaged had only two objectives - to get in and get the men out.

Many of the little coasters involved had already faced up to constant German raiders and with them, heading for Dunkirk, went the Saturday afternoon sailors, the amateur sailors, some of them with crafts of engine power not fit to run round an estuary, some with very little knowledge of navigation and some even without a compass.

The North East never saw the exhausted troops limping ashore at home ports, but we were heavily represented at Dunkirk through the Tyne-Tees Steamship Company, of Newcastle. One of their vessels was the little Beal, loaded with 900 tons of badly needed ammunition for the men holding the perimeter of Dunkirk while their mates escaped.

By the time she arrived the loading facilities of the port were already shattered. There was nothing but to handle the ammunition with her own gear and, despite incessant bombing, her crew got the high explosives over the side and ashore.

Then it was on to loading up troops. There was surf on the beach where she was working, but one of her hands, ADC Hall, of Norman Road, Newcastle, went over the side and swam half a mile to the shore with a line. That rope enabled the loaded lifeboats to be pulled off the beach when the sea made it impossible to handle under oars.

The Gateshead made her first run for Calais, Capt J R Linn, later to become a Blyth pilot, said: "We were close inshore to Calais when the German guns opened fire. We did not know the port had fallen and we had actually gone down to breakfast; the scene was so quiet. A few more minutes patience on the part of the Germans and we would have had it. Another ship with us was hit.

"At Dunkirk East Pier a ship berthed astern of us. We never saw her name - one minute she was there and the next only two masts were to be seen.

"The Germans had the range of the pier and were knocking lumps off it but my Chief Officer, Jack Winship, of South Shields, strolled along to see if he could contact the soldiers.

"In the worst attacks one of the hands appeared on the bridge with a cup of tea. …

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