The society’s first evening talk for the 2022/3 season was by Medway Queen enthusiasts Mark and Pam Bathurst, who had travelled all the way from Margate to be with us.
The Medway Queen is the last estuary paddle steamer in the United Kingdom, and the full story of her design, build, civilian and war services unfolded before us in Mark and Pam’s impressive multimedia presentation.
We learned that the Medway Queen initially entered service as a pleasure vessel to provide shuttle services between Chatham and other Medway towns to Southend in 1924. With occasional excursions elsewhere she served on the same route until the beginning of the Second World War.
She was then requisitioned for the Royal Navy in 1939 and converted for mine-sweeping and remained an active minesweeper until late 1943 and was later repurposed as a minesweeping training vessel for the rest of the war.
Significantly, and a main focus of Mark and Pam’s presentation, was the part played by the Medway Queen in Operation Dynamo, the evacuation of allied troops from the Dunkirk beaches. We learned of the heroism of the ship and her crews as they made seven return trips across the channel, rescuing upwards of 7,000 men and in the process managing to shoot down 3 enemy aircraft.
c. The Medway Queen Preservation Society
After the war, the Medway Queen was refitted and returned to civilian services in 1946/7, but by the early 1960s paddle steamers such as the Medway Queen were competing with more modern vessels and eventually she was taken out of service in 1963.
From here we learned of the struggles to preserve the memories represented by the Medway Queen, with several failed attempts to secure her preservation before she was bought by a consortium in 1965 to become a night club and restaurant – The Medway Queen Club – on the Isle of Wight. By the early 1980s the club had folded, the vessel itself suffered some hull damage, and was brought back in rather poor shape to the River Medway.
With a sinking and other narrow escapes from the scrapyard, the Medway Queen was rescued by the formation of the current Medway Queen Preservation Society in 1985. The Society later became owners of this historic vessel.
We learned of the dedicated efforts of the society to rebuild the ship’s hull (2013) and establish a base and workshop at Gillingham Pier, where the Medway Queen can be visited today. This has been achieved by the securing of substantial National Lottery funding, and from contributions from the European Regional Development Fund. Also, of course, from the dedicated efforts of volunteers in the Medway Queen Preservation Society including those of Mark and Pam who work hard to tell the story, and did well to bring it to us for this enjoyable evening, sometimes with sobering reminders of wartime upheavals but always entertaining and informative.
See more about the Medway Queen on YouTube
… and more about the Medway Queen can be found here.