“I cannot see who you are. Are you a naval party?”
“No Sir, we are men of the crew of the Ramsgate life-boat”
“Thank you – and thank God for such men as you this night have proved to be! There’s a party of fifty Highlanders coming next ….”
An extract from the coxswain’s report as attached to the RNLI report of service relating to 30th and 31st May and 1st June 1940
Operation “Dynamo” had commenced and at 1.15pm on Thursday 30th May 1940 the call was made for volunteers to man the “Prudential” and go to the beaches of Dunkirk to save as many of the trapped troops of the British Expeditionary Force as possible. The Ramsgate crew volunteered to a man and after being issued with tin hats and respirators, the coxswain, Howard Knight, steered the “Prudential”, the first RNLI vessel respond, out of harbour and set a course for the hell that was Dunkirk. The life-boat was loaded with four coils of warp and fresh water for the rescued troops. One of the very first vessels to set out for Dunkirk, she took in tow eight boats, mostly wherries, which were manned by a total of eighteen naval men.
At Dunkirk the role of the “Prudential” was to tow the wherries, each of which could hold just eight men, between the beaches and the waiting offshore ships, at the same time carrying some 160 tightly packed men on-board. She saved some 800 men that first night. Shelling and bombing increased and a swell was making which resulted in the loss of many small boats. “Prudential” lost five of her wherries on the first night but despite suffering shell, shrapnel and bullet damage she continued her rescue work throughout the following day and night when the last of her wherries was lost. Into the third day and the “Prudential” had helped rescue 2800 men, both British and French. She sailed for Ramsgate at 1.30pm on the Saturday having worked on the beaches, under fire, for a continuous thirty of the forty hours she’d been away from home.
“Prudential” Coxswain, Howard Primrose Knight was awarded the D.S.M. for the part that he and his crew played in the evacuation of troops. During the war he wrote ‘heroic’ articles of his experiences for local newspapers.
The volunteer crew who participated in the evacuation from Dunkirk:
Edward Cooper, Ernest Attwood (Mechanic), Alfred Liddle, John Hawkes, Thomas Goldfinch
Front Row (L-R)
Alfred Moody (Ass’t Coxswain), Howard Knight (Coxswain), Thomas Read (Ass’t Mechanic)