2016 Medway Queen, Gillingham Pier3498c.JPG
PS Medway Queen, Gillingham Pier 2016
United Kingdom
  • PS Medway Queen (1938-39~)
  • HMS Medway Queen (1939-47)
  • PS Medway Queen (from 1947)
  • New Medway Steam Packet Company (1924-39)
  • Royal Navy (1939-47)
  • New Medway Steam Packet Company (1947-64)
  • (Nightclub, Ryde) (1964-85)
  • Medway Queen Preservation Society (from 1985)
Port of registry:
  • United Kingdom Rochester (1928-39)
  • United Kingdom Royal Navy (1939-47)
  • United Kingdom Rochester (from 1947)
Builder: Ailsa Shipbuilding Company, Troon, Scotland
Yard number: PS 388
Launched: Wednesday 23 April 1924
In service: 1924
Out of service: 1964
  • UK Official Number 148361
  • Code letters GGNG (1944- )
  • ICS Golf.svgICS Golf.svgICS November.svgICS Golf.svg
  • Pennant Number N 48 (1939-42)
  • Pennant Number J48 (1942-47)
Nickname(s): Heroine of Dunkirk
  • Under restoration as a museum ship
  •  Decommissioned 11 December 1997
Notes: Sea trials 1924
General characteristics
Class and type: Paddle steamer
Tonnage: 316 GRT
Displacement: 134 tonnes[citation needed]
Length: 179 ft 9 in (54.79 m)
  • 24 ft 2 in (7.37 m) hull
  • 50 ft (15.24 m) over paddle frames
Draught: 7 ft 8 in (2.34 m)
Installed power: 76 hp (57 kW) [1] Scotch type boiler 11 feet long, fitted with triple furnaces feeding Ailsa built compound diagonal steam engine. Coal fired when built, converted to oil fired by Wallsend Engineering in 1938, built by Ailsa
Propulsion: Paddles
  • 13 knots (24 km/h) at 45rpm cruising
  • 15 knots (28 km/h) at 55rpm maximum speed
Armament: 1 x 12 pounder gun, 2 x machine guns (HMS Medway Queen)

The PS Medway Queen is a paddle driven steamship, the only mobile estuary paddle steamer left in the United Kingdom. She was one of the "little ships of Dunkirk",[2] making a record 7 trips and rescuing 7000 men in the evacuation of Dunkirk.

She was the subject of a £1.8 million National Lottery Heritage Memorial Fund grant to restore her hull. By 2014, her hull had been reconstructed and she is sitting at Gillingham Pier on the River Medway.


PS Medway Queen was built at the Ailsa Shipbuilding Company in Troon, Scotland, in 1924 for service on the River Medway and in the Thames Estuary. Trialled on the River Clyde, she was delivered to be part of the "Queen Line" fleet of the New Medway Steam Packet Company based at Rochester, Kent.[3] She steamed the Thames on the routes from Strood and Chatham, to Sheerness, Herne Bay and Margate in Kent; and Clacton and Southend in Essex.

On 3 August 1929, Medway Queen collided with Southend Pier, Essex, and suffered extensive damage to her bows.[4]

After attending the coronation Fleet Review for George VI at Spithead in 1937, Medway Queen was converted to oil-fired steaming,[5] by Wallsend Slipway & Engineering Company in 1937.

World War II

Requisitioned by the Royal Navy as a minesweeper, she was renumbered No J 48 (N 48), serving for the duration of World War II in the 10th minesweeping flotilla, protecting the English Channel.

Her first task in 1939 was evacuating Kent children from Gravesend to East Anglia.[6] She was refitted in the shipyard of the General Steam Navigation Company (Deptford Creek), her aft being modified to take minesweeping gear. She operated patrolling the Straits of Dover. In May 1940 Operation Dynamo was launched to rescue the retreating British Army soldiers from Dunkirk in northern France. HMS Medway Queen became part of the flotilla of little ships. Medway Queen was fitted with a 12-pounder gun and two machine guns. She left with PS Sandown, PS Thames Queen, PS Gracie Fields, PS Queen of Thanet, PS Princess Elizabeth, PS Laguna Belle and PS Brighton Belle. She was to make seven crossings.[6]

On her first trip, soldiers were taken off the beaches in lifeboats and ferried to the ship. On her return to Dover, her arrival coincided with an air raid. She shot down a German aircraft outside the harbour. The Brighton Belle ran over sunken wreckage and began to sink. All of her passengers and crew were rescued by the Medway Queen without loss of life, and heavily overloaded she made the harbour.[7]

On her second trip she took the soldiers directly off the beach; this required more skill, but was much faster. Soldiers used a technique with oily bags to conceal their distinctive wash from patrolling aircraft. On later trips, the Medway Queen penetrated the damaged Dunkerque port and took off men from a concrete jetty or mole.[6] Men were discharged at Ramsgate rather than Dover, where the vessel was re-oiled and reprovisioned.[6]

On Monday 3 June Vice Admiral Ramsey gave the order that all ships were to leave Dunkirk by 2.30 the following morning. This was the Medway Queen's seventh trip. She was at the mole in Dunkirk when a destroyer moored astern of her was driven forwards by an explosion and smashed her starboard paddle box, she sustained considerable damage. Medway Queen limped back to Dover with 400 French soldiers on board. By then, she had rescued 7,000 men.[7]

She gained four awards for gallantry, having shot down three enemy aircraft, made seven crossings and rescued 7000 men.[6] In view of this remarkable achievement in rescuing so many Allied troops from France, she earned the title of "The Heroine of Dunkirk".[7] In 1942 she was converted to a mine sweeping training ship, and served out the war in this capacity.[8]

Return to service

Rebuilt by Thorneycrofts of Southampton in 1946, she returned to civilian service with New Medway Steam Packet Company for the 1947 season. When Elizabeth II was crowned, PS Medway Queen attended the 1953 Coronation Review at Spithead.

She made her last sailing on 8 September 1963,[9] and was scheduled to be scrapped in Belgium.[10] The Belgian ship-breaker, upon discovering that the vessel he was expecting to break up was none other than "The Heroine of Dunkirk", declined to continue (it is reported that he felt that no one should dare to destroy such a gallant and important little ship). The Daily Mail newspaper campaigned to save her.[11]

Use as nightclub

Having been saved from scrapping, Medway Queen was eventually sold for use as a nightclub and marina clubhouse, and was moored at the Medway Queen Marina (now known as the Island Harbour Marina) on the Isle of Wight. The club opened in 1966. In 1970, a larger ship, PS Ryde, renamed as Ryde Queen, joined Medway Queen at the marina site, also operating as a nightclub. The two premises operated alongside one another for a period, until the Medway Queen was eventually closed and fell into disrepair.[12]


In 1994, the PS Medway Queen in Damhead Creek, Kingsnorth.
The PS Medway Queen in the Albion Dry Dock, Bristol on the occasion of her rededication on 27 July 2013, during the Bristol Harbour Festival

In 1978 the Medway Queen was bought by private owners with the aim of preserving her. She was moved out of the marina to the adjacent River Medina, but sank in the river when the hull sprang a leak. There she remained, in a state of increasing deterioration, until in 1984 she was salvaged, moved to Cowes at the river’s mouth, and thence towed back to Chatham in Kent on a salvage barge.[12] In 1985 the Medway Queen Preservation Society formed, with the intention of preserving the historic ship.[13]

In 1987 she was moved to Damhead Creek, Kingsnorth on the Hoo Peninsula, but the trust lacked funds to bring her back to service, and struggled to preserve the structure. After a series of near disasters, in 2006 the National Lottery Heritage Memorial Fund agreed a £1.8 million funding package to restore her structure, subject to the society raising £225,000. Having completed the fund raising, the trust was disappointed that neither the insurance company or marine engineers were confident that her hull was seaworthy and able of sustaining lifting on to a pontoon. In October 2006, the Trust agreed to the deconstruction of the hull, and salvageable pieces were moved to Gillingham Pier (and a National Lottery funded warehouse) in Chatham Dockyard, in preparation of the hull being professionally restored to seaworthy condition.[14]

In October 2008, the society signed a contract with David Abels Shipbuilders to restore the hull at the Albion Dry Dock in Bristol. This to be done using plate rivetting by a team of 10, and was envisaged to take two years.[15] Work began in April 2009 and was due to be completed in the summer of 2010.[16] On 27 July 2013 the ship was rededicated. Plans were to float her out of the Albion Dock during the summer of 2013 and tow her back to Gillingham for a reception on 2 November.[17][18]

The tow home to Gillingham using the tug Christine started from Bristol on 24 October 2013,[18] but due to weather conditions they were held up at Avonmouth until 15 November when the wind abated sufficiently, and the tow around Land's End and through the English Channel could continue in safety.[14]

At around 3pm on Friday 15 November 2013 the Medway Queen departed Avonmouth towed by the tug Christine. Benefiting from the good weather the tow continued throughout the weekend with her arriving back on her home territory on the River Medway. Despite earlier delays in commencing the tow the weather remained kind to the 'Heroine of Dunkirk' as she made the entire journey around Lands End and along the South Coast of England in one go without the need to seek shelter along the way. The tug and tow finally arrived on the River Medway on Monday 18 November 2013. Due mainly to tidal restriction the Medway Queen was buoyed in Saltpan Reach until high tide the following day.[14]

The crowds were gathered, the TV crews were in position and around 1.30pm the Medway Queen was finally in sight as she made her final leg of her journey to her new home at Gillingham Pier. Under the guidance of tug master Alan Pratt the historic vessel was brought gently into the pier at high tide.[14]

Official number and code letters

Official Numbers were a forerunner to IMO Numbers.

Medway Queen had the UK Official Number 148361. She used the Code Letters GGNG from 1944.[19]


  • 1924 – built Troon, Scotland, by the Ailsa Yard for service on the River Medway and the Thames Estuary. Trialled on the River Clyde
  • 1925 – worked on River Medway and the Thames Estuary, part of the "Queen Line" fleet of the New Medway Steam Packet Company based at Rochester, Kent
  • 1937 – attended the Coronation Review for George VI at Spithead
  • 1938 – converted by Wallsend Engineering from coal to oil burning, by Wallsend Engineering
  • 1939 – carried children evacuated from Kent to East Anglia. Joined Royal Navy as minesweeper No J 48 (N 48), serving for the duration of the war in the 10th minesweeping flotilla in the English Channel
  • 1940 – became part of the flotilla of ships evacuating British Army soldiers from Dunkirk during Operation Dynamo. After making seven trips (the record number of crossings by any merchant navy ship involved in the evacuation), she rescued over 7,000 men, gaining for the ship's crew four awards for gallantry, and shot down three enemy aircraft. At one time during the evacuation she was overdue and was thought to have been lost with all hands and troops – but she eventually arrived back at Dover, ready to return to France for more troops. The sterling efforts of the ship and her crew earned the paddle steamer the title of "Heroine of Dunkirk"
  • 1946 – rebuilt by Thorneycrofts of Southampton
  • 1947 – returned to civilian service with New Medway Steam Packet Company
  • 1953 – attended the Coronation Review for Queen Elizabeth II at Spithead
  • 1963 – taken out of service, with the possibility of being broken up (but the Belgian shipbreaker declined to break up the "Heroine of Dunkirk", so she was thus saved an ignoble end)
  • 1964 – sold, and later opened as a nightclub on the Isle of Wight
  • 1970s – replaced by the larger PS Ryde and moved to the River Medina, but sank when the hull sprang a leak
  • 1984 – raised and towed back to the River Medway on a pontoon by new owners
  • ???? – abandoned and sank again, while moored against the wall of Chatham Dockyard
  • 1985 – the Medway Queen Preservation Society formed, with the intention of preserving the ship
  • 1987 – raised and moved to Damhead Creek, Kingsnorth on the Hoo Peninsula
  • 2006 – the National Lottery Heritage Memorial Fund agreed a £1.8 million funding package to restore the structure, subject to the Society raising £225,000
  • 2006 – deconstructed, as hull considered both unseaworthy and of sustaining lifting onto a pontoon. The hull and salvageable pieces were moved to Chatham Dockyard
  • 2009 – restoration began in April, with new hull to be constructed at Albion Shipyard, Bristol.
  • 2011 – Visitors' Centre opened at Gillingham Pier, funded by the European Heroes2c project with sister projects Association Tourville and de Steenschuit
  • 2013 – new hull entered the River Medway at Sheerness under tow from Bristol on 18 November 2013


  1. ^ Dumpleton, Bernard (1973). The Story of the Paddlesteamer. Intellect Publishing. ISBN 1-84150-801-2. Retrieved 31 October 2016.
  2. ^ Association of Dunkirk Little Ships: List of Dunkirk Little Ships Retrieved 6 March 2014
  3. ^ Kempton 2014a.
  4. ^ "Casualty reports". The Times (45273). London. 5 August 1929. col C, p. 17.
  5. ^ Peake, Alan. "IT WAS NOT ALL PLAIN SAILING – The late W. G. Peake served his engineer apprenticeship with GSN and in 1919 had his first experience of a paddle steamer…". peepintopast.org. Retrieved 20 July 2017.
  6. ^ a b c d e Kempton 2014b.
  7. ^ a b c War & Peace Show 2010 Official Programme. Edon Publishing. 2010. p. 14.
  8. ^ "PS Medway Queen - History". medwayqueen.com. Retrieved 27 July 2010.
  9. ^ "Medway Queen". National Historic Ships UK. Retrieved 4 November 2013.
  10. ^ "Medway Queen". Tramscape. Retrieved 27 July 2010.
  11. ^ Kempton 2014c.
  12. ^ a b Medway Queen Preservation Society
  13. ^ Chambers 2014.
  14. ^ a b c d Kempton 2014e.
  15. ^ Robinson, Hayley (10 October 2008). "Crowning moment for Historic Queen". Medway Extra, Larkfield, Kent.
  16. ^ "Dunkirk rescue boat gets revamp". BBC News Online. 17 April 2009. Retrieved 17 April 2009.
  17. ^ "Rededication of the Medway Queen". The Medway Queen Preservation Society. Retrieved 30 July 2013.
  18. ^ a b "Rebuilt Medway Queen Journey To Kent". GMB Newsroom. 21 October 2013. Retrieved 12 September 2014.
  19. ^ "LLOYD'S REGISTER, NAVIRES A VAPEUR ET A MOTEURS" (PDF). Plimsoll Ship Data. Retrieved 17 April 2009.
  • Kempton, John (2014a). "The Pre War Years". Website History. Medway Queen Preservation Society. Retrieved 11 September 2014.
  • Kempton, John (2014b). "The War Years". Website History. Medway Queen Preservation Society. Retrieved 11 September 2014.
  • Kempton, John (2014c). "The Post War Years". Website History. Medway Queen Preservation Society. Retrieved 11 September 2014.
  • Kempton, John (2014d). "The Isle of Wight Years". Website History. Medway Queen Preservation Society. Retrieved 11 September 2014.
  • Chambers, Noreen (2014). "Early Preservation Years". Website History. Medway Queen Preservation Society. Retrieved 11 September 2014.
  • Kempton, John (2014e). "Rebuilding the Hull". Website History. Medway Queen Preservation Society. Retrieved 11 September 2014.

External links

  • Medway Queen Preservation Society

Coordinates: 51°23′53″N 0°33′18″E / 51.39806°N 0.55500°E / 51.39806; 0.55500