LNER Ships at Dunkirk - SS Prague & SS Malines

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PackRat
NER Y7 0-4-0T
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LNER Ships at Dunkirk - SS Prague & SS Malines

Post by PackRat » Sat Oct 14, 2017 10:07 am

Hello all,

This is quite an obscure question, but I'm hoping someone might have information about the records or ship's logs from these ships that could help to answer it.

I'm researching my grandfather's war service, trying to tie the events in with anecdotes that he told me over the years and records from the MoD and National Archives. At the moment I'm working out two snippets of stories he told me about Dunkirk: first the drawing of lots on the beach between what was left of his artillery regiment to see who was going to try to get out and who was going to stay behind and keep fighting to the end with the few field guns they'd managed to get back to Dunkirk after the retreat from Belgium; and second his evacuation back to England on 'the Harwich ferry'.

His service record is marked 'Evacuated from BEF 31.5.40', and his regiment's war diary mentions the group of men that I think he got out with (the lucky ones that drew the long straws) heading to the docks on the 30th May and embarking some time that night or the next morning (unsurprisingly the adjutant's record-keeping in the diary gets a bit confused at that point!). He told me that he got off from the 'mole', and that it was 'the Harwich ferry' that brought him home.

With the help of some very knowledgeable people over at the WW2Talk forum I think I've narrowed the possible evacuation ships down to two LNER vessels: the SS Prague & SS Malines. It seems that they both landed men from Dunkirk at Folkstone on the 31st May, and they could both reasonably be called 'the Harwich ferry'. The data that I've got is that Prague reached Folkstone to disembark rescued troops 31 May @ 0645, and Malines 31 May @ 1540. None of the records I've got can help me narrow it down further between these two ships, but I found a reference to private papers from the skipper of the Maline in the IWM collection http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/ ... 1030007983 that could be useful, though they're not available online.

So my questions are:

1. Are there any other ships that could reasonably be called 'the Harwich ferry' that went to Dunkirk. I think (although I could be wrong) these are the only two LNER ships that were there, but was LNER the only operator?

2. Are there any more detailed records (beyond what is in the excellent shipping section of the LNER Encyclopedia) about what these two ships did at Dunkirk? What times where they there on the 31st May 1940, and where did they lift troops from? Does anyone have any ship's logs, private papers, crew accounts etc. that might help?

3. And finally a ridiculously obscure question... I can remember him saying to me with a bit of a smile that "I even got a shower" on the voyage home, and I have no idea how serious he was being on this point. I took it at the time to mean that he somehow found himself in a decent cabin with a working shower, but on reflection he might also have been saying in a self-deprecating way that he got soaked on deck by some event during the evacuation. Does anyone know if cabins (or bathrooms) in those ships were equipped with showers? I didn't think that they were at all common in the 30s/40s, but perhaps ships were different?

Any help or ideas on any of this would be very much appreciated!

Seagull
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Re: LNER Ships at Dunkirk - SS Prague & SS Malines

Post by Seagull » Sun Oct 15, 2017 7:24 am

I can give you general answers to your questions at least.

1. Harwich port was owned and operated by the LNER as successors to the GER who built it and started the run. I am nearly 100% certain that until Seacontainers bought Sealink off the government that it was only ever railway operated and thus probably you have the correct two (and ONLY) 'Harwich ferries'.

2. The ships would have been under Royal Navy control at the time. There maybe some records re. Operation Dynamo (the Dunkirk Evacuation) at the National Archives at Kew. Equally if you are really lucky the ships official and/or deck log books may also be there in the LNER archives. From experience the railway companies insisted on good record keeping. However often a tidy minded person would have a clear out so you will need to be 'really' lucky!

3. He probaly did get a shower! I don't know if the passenger cabins had showers though it's likely the first class cabins had them. Even if they did not the Captain's cabin probably had a bath, the officers would have showers one for each 2-8 officers depending on how generous the company was and the ratings would have had one shower per 8 ratings. Likely there were at least 10 crew showers on the ships. Just like in 1982 in the Falkland Islands the crew would let the soldiers use their 'facilities'

Good luck with the research.

Alan
Playing trains, but trying to get serious

PackRat
NER Y7 0-4-0T
Posts: 2
Joined: Sat Oct 14, 2017 9:09 am

Re: LNER Ships at Dunkirk - SS Prague & SS Malines

Post by PackRat » Mon Oct 16, 2017 8:32 am

Thanks very much for answering Alan, this is really helpful information.

I'm planning my first trip to Kew fairly soon so I'll see if I can get a lucky find in the LNER archives while I'm there. If anything turns up I'll post it here too.

Thanks again.

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