Thursday, 27 May 2010

Left High and Dry

On the radio and television this morning there is rightly widespread coverage of the 70th anniversary of Operation Dynamo when the little ships rescued British soldiers from Dunkirk. I highlighted local plans last week.

Michael Child has more photos available here and I am grateful to him for the use of the top photo which shows Ramsgate's own Sundowner left high and dry by Thanet District Council.

At every event commemorating Dunkirk since 1965 Sundowner has been present. Hundreds of hours of volunteer time has gone into restoring and maintaining her. She's often to be seen in Ramsgate and is made freely available to visitors. Yet because Thanet District Council Conservatives' failure to sort out the mess that is Thanet's maritime heritage Sundowner is left high and dry. Whilst radio, television and newspapers rightly honour all those little boats and the people who served and died, Sundowner sheds a tear stuck on the side of the harbour as she is left stranded.

Almost a year ago Sundowner volunteer John Watkins detailed problems with East Kent Maritime Trust (EKMT)...

"More than £40,000 spent on consultants in recent years, whilst paying their own local permanent staff poverty rates of pay. £75,000 in fees, plus £62,000 penalty, paid over to the legal profession, for the mediation concerning their hugely expensive and totally unnecessary squabble over the tug Cervia.

In addition to all this, the EKMT inexplicably failed to produce any annual reports and accounts for over three years, until November 2008, contrary to Charity Commission rules. This was whilst still continuing to receive, with no questions asked, their regular annual £80,000 grant from Thanet District Council, funded by the local rate payers.

At the start of 2008 the East Kent Maritime Trustees, who included three senior local Tory politicians among their number, were able to carry forward funds of almost £223,000. This sum included money from bequests, donations, grants and sales. However, in spite of this they still found it unavoidable to make every one of their loyal staff members redundant, thus depriving seven local workers of their livelihoods and tipping them all out into a very uncertain future."

We hear much of the supposed Big Society that the David Cameron Conservative government wishes to see brought about. Yet here are volunteers giving their time freely frustrated by a lack of local political leadership, to ensure charities which have councillors involved with them and which have received public monies act in the community's best interests.

Sundowner the boat the Nazis couldn't stop has been left high and dry.


  1. What a disgusting state of affairs, it was so sad to see the Sundowner stuck on the quay when she should have been leading the fleet out of the harbour.
    Another knife in the back for Ramsgate from Richard Samuels and his cronies. I don't suppose we will see the power boats this year either.

  2. I agree that the decision not to send Sundowner is puzzling - especially when she seems to be in fine condition and had a keen and dedicated crew. However, she hasn't been at every 5-yearly commemoration. She had a spell in the 60s/70s when she was based in Alicante and was involved (allegedely!) in all sorts of dishonourable activities, perhaps the most tasteful of which was gold smuggling. I'm pretty sure she didn;t return to Dunkirk in 1985 and probably not the 1980 event either.

    She did return in 1950 - 15 years before the founding of the Association of Dunkirk Little Ships, which established the 5-yearly cyles in 1965. Since she has been in Ramsgate she has participated under EKMT management in every return since 'the big one' in 1990. Let's hope she is able to take her rightful place in the 75th Anniversary!

    She is one of the most important of the Little Ships, not just because of C H Lightollers Titanic connection, but because she was one of the handful of boats actually taken to Dunkirk by her owner and then returned to Ramsgate crammed with troops. This was the myth that Churchill amplified to turn a disastrous defeat into a unifying 'miracle of deliverance'!