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Telling the WW2 story of the Little Ships of Jersey

June 17, 2020

This week I should have been in Jersey taking part in the re-enactment of the rescue of the demolition crews and troops from St Malo in the middle of June 1940. Of course, the pandemic knocked that on the head.

Instead of a full re-enactment, yachts from St Helier Yacht Club staged a sail past around the harbour at St Helier led by Fiona (pictured in St Helier harbour), one of the 20 little ships from Jersey that answered the Admiralty’s plea for help in 1940. This was covered for the BBC by Robert Hall, a network correspondent who has been in Jersey for the duration of the pandemic and he kindly asked me to provide some context for his report.

BBC report on the 80th anniversary of the evacuation of British troops from St Malo by the Little Ships of Jersey, broadcast on 15 June 2020

The last-ditch rescue of the demolition teams was part of Operation Aerial, the largest element of the evacuation plan that swung into action after Dunkirk. When Dunkirk fell on 4 June there were still around 160,000 British troops, 25,000 Polish and Czech troops and almost 30,000 civilians who still needed to be rescued from France as the German forces swept through the country. During the rest of June they were brought back to England through ports along the Normandy and Biscay coasts. St Malo was one of those ports.

Over 20,000 troops had been evacuated from St Malo and as the Germans approached the demolition crews were sent in to do as much damage to the port facilities as possible in the time that was left. The problem was how to get them back as large ships were by then potentially in range of German guns and planes. This is where the 20 Little Ships of Jersey came into their own.

• This story, along with many others, some never previously published, will be in my book Bring Them Home: Churchill’s Second Miracle of Deliverance. This is almost complete, although this week’s broadcast has prompted more people to contact me with their relatives’ stories: I am very grateful to them and will weave as many of them as possible into the narrative.

More about Operation Aerial and my book

From → History

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