RNLI volunteers are used to dealing with unusual situations – but Ramsgate Coxswain Ian Cannon and crew-member daughter Becky didn’t expect to find themselves walking the red carpet for the world premiere of new movie ‘Dunkirk’!
Ian and Becky, 17 and the youngest member of Ramsgate’s RNLI crew, were invited to the event in Leicester Square because of their family connection to the real events that inspired Christopher Nolan’s new film about one of World War Two’s greatest rescues.
They have also featured in a short film made by popular social media brand LadBible to celebrate the RNLI’s links to Dunkirk ahead of the film’s release on Friday July 21.
Coxswain Ian’s great-great-uncle Alf Moody was a lifeboatman at Ramsgate. He was one of the crew that went over to France to help take stranded British troops off the beaches at Dunkirk as part of Operation Dynamo in 1940.
Seventeen RNLI vessels were taken over to Dunkirk by the Navy, but the boats from Ramsgate and Margate went over with their own crews on board – ordinary lifeboatmen prepared to head into war.
Howard Knight, then the coxswain of the Ramsgate lifeboat Prudential, later recalled the moment he informed his crew of their mission: “‘We are going over the other side to fetch our boys off,’ I told them. Not one of them hesitated.”
Prudential had a crew of eight under Howard Knight. They sailed at 2.30pm on the 30th May 1940, towing eight wherries filled with water and supplies for the troops at Dunkirk. Once the supplies had been unloaded, her job was to tow these boats, laden with eight troops each, between the beaches and the larger vessels offshore. Operating for the most part off La Panne and under constant fire, she helped bring off some 2,800 men in 30 hours.
Margate lifeboat The Lord Southborough went over with Coxswain Edward Parker and ten crew. They were given steel helmets, food and cigarettes.
The commander of the HMS Icarus saw the lifeboatmen at work in France and later said: “The magnificent behaviour of the crew of the Margate lifeboat who, with no thought of rest, brought off load after load of soldiers from Dunkirk, under continuous shelling, bombing and aerial machine-gun fire, will be an inspiration to us as long as we live.”
The Margate crew took around 600 men off the beaches, while the Ramsgate crew, who worked continuously for 30 hours, took around 2800 men off the beaches.
In total, over 338,000 men were rescued between 26 May and 4 June, of which over one third (98,000) were evacuated by Dunkirk’s ‘little ships’. The original target for Operation Dynamo had been to evacuate 45,000.
Coxswains Howard Knight and Edward Parker were awarded the Distinguished Service Medal for their gallantry and determination, and all crew members received the RNLI’s Thanks on Vellum.