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On 26th May 1940, Winston Churchill launched Operation Dynamo - a two day plan aimed at rescuing 45,000 soldiers trapped at Dunkirk on the north coast of France. However, only 25,000 men escaped within these two days so the plan was amended with an emergency call to all British sea vessels to take part in the rescue. The Royal Navy provided the anti-aircraft cruiser HMS Calcutta, thirty-nine destroyers, and many other craft. The Merchant Navy supplied various vessels including passenger ferries and hospital ships. The Belgian, Dutch, and French allies also provided boats and, by 31st May, nearly four hundred civilian-owned small craft had joined the effort. By 4th June, 338,226 soldiers had been taken back to Dover

Bernard Murphy (left) and Terry O’Hanlon pictured leaving Buckingham Palace after receiving e their DSE and MBE awards for their service in the Dunkirk rescue. Newry and Mourne Museum Collection
Bernard Murphy (left) and Terry O’Hanlon pictured leaving Buckingham Palace after receiving e their DSE and MBE awards for their service in the Dunkirk rescue. Newry and Mourne Museum Collection

One of the boats which took part in the rescue was the Dorrien Rose, a tramp steamer based in Liverpool. Her Chief engineer, Bernard Murphy, was from Cloghogue, near Newry. Also aboard was Terry O’Hanlon, from Lower Fathom, serving as the First Mate. Terry’s son Tommy later described a near miss for the Dorrien Rose and her crew when they were under fire by the Lufftwaffe until the gunner on board shot the attacking aircraft down. He told of how “the guy [German pilot] was coming down in a parachute and the troops started to shoot at him, he said ‘no take me prisoner’, but they wouldn’t listen to him, they were so incensed.” 

One of the other the “little ships” that was not so fortunate was the Queen of the Channel, a Thames pleasure boat, which took a direct hit. As the boat was going down all 700 on board swam over to the Dorrien Rose and were safely ferried back to England.

Major Gerald Reside, a Newry architect, was supposedly one of the last soldiers rescued at Dunkirk. Major Reside never spoke of his wartime service or experiences.  Courtesy of Fergus Hanna Bell
Major Gerald Reside, a Newry architect, was supposedly one of the last soldiers rescued at Dunkirk. Major Reside never spoke of his wartime service or experiences. Courtesy of Fergus Hanna Bell

Despite the danger and hardships of the rescue, the Dorrien Rose was largely successful in its three journeys back and forth across the English Channel. Although Bernard Murphy was proud of the achievements of the Dorrien Rose and her crew, the experience was nevertheless harrowing and extremely taxing for all involved, with Bernard describing the scene as “a burning hell, even the water was on fire.” He did his best to keep the ship’s engines going but when the engines finally failed, the Dorrien Rose was employed as a blockade by the cliffs of Dover. 

A torch which was used on the Dorrien Rose during the rescue at Dunkirk and is in the Newry and Mourne Museum Collection. Newry and Mourne Museum Collection
A torch which was used on the Dorrien Rose during the rescue at Dunkirk and is in the Newry and Mourne Museum Collection. Newry and Mourne Museum Collection

Another local seaman involved in the evacuation was David Ivor from Barrack Street in Newry. He was Captain of the Clew Bay, a coal boat owned by Messrs Kelly Ltd in Belfast and manned the ship’s gun on two occasions when the ship came under aerial attack from German bombers. 

One of the many thousands of troops rescued was Major Gerald Reside, an architect and engineer from Newry. He was serving with the British Expeditionary Force and returned to France during the D-Landings in June 1944 with the Royal Artillery.  

Newry and Mourne Museum is temporarily closed.

by Ken Abraham 

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