Paddle Steamer Medway Queen was built by the Ailsa Shipbuilding Company of Troon Scotland in 1924, for the New Medway Steam Packet Company of Rochester.
The Medway Queen is the last of the estuary paddle steamers that were built to take passengers on day trips on the Thames and Medway Estuaries, calling at locations such as Southend, Herne Bay and Margate.
Based in the Medway Towns, for many years she gave pleasure to thousands of passengers, who enjoyed a wonderful, relaxing day out and a precious break from long working hours.
At the outbreak of the Second World War she was commissioned into the Royal Navy and became a minesweeper, joining the 10th minesweeping flotilla.
As H.M.S. Medway Queen she was now armed with a twelve pound gun and two Lewis guns. On the 27th of May 1940 she was ordered to the beaches of Dunkirk “to embark some troops that would be waiting there”. During the next few days the Medway Queen rescued in excess of 7000 men, completing seven trips, a record for a ship below the size of a destroyer.
At the start of her final return to England, with almost 500 French troops on board, she sustained significant damage in a collision.
After the war she was refitted and then returned to her peacetime role and took place in the Naval Coronation Review of 1953.
After the Summer of 1963 she was withdrawn due to diminishing business and was sold to a shipbreaker. Following an outcry from the public she was saved and became a night club on the Isle of Wight. She was then replaced by a larger vessel and was left to become derelict.
Over the next years she encountered many problems but in the summer of 1985 the Medway Queen Preservation Society was formed and the campaign to save this little ship started in earnest. Those few well meaning amateurs faced an enormous task. They worked in appalling and dangerous conditions, were short of money, suffered many disappointments and received little official help.
In 2006 the project was awarded a Heritage Lottery Grant of £1.86m and more recently a pledge of €2m from the European Interreg IVA 2 Seas Initiative. It is now a multi-million pound project.
With substantial funds now available, the ship was dismantled, that being the first stage of its reconstruction.
Sadly the old hull was beyond repair so a new hull was built at the Albion Dry Dockyard in Bristol by David Abels (Boat builders). This is the first fully riveted ship to be built in Britain for over fifty years and moreover, it is being built in a traditional manner and not in a “modular” way, as is the normal practice these days.
Many of the original components survive and some have already been installed in the new hull. A large amount of original decking has been used and many, many fixtures and fittings are stored in readiness. Following the completion of the new hull, the vessel was towed to the Medway Towns, during late November 2013.
Thanks to Medway Council, we have a site at Gillingham Pier, where the remainder of the work can be completed and where a visitor’s centre is now equipped and open on Saturdays.
We were delighted that Medway Queen was taken to Ramsgate (under tow) to participate in the recent Dunkirk 75th Anniversary Commemorations. She remained there for over a week and we were pleased to welcome many visitors aboard.
One of our visitors was the Great Grandson of Lieutenant Cook, who was the Captain during Operation Dynamo.
The ship will reopen to visitors on Good Friday (14th April) and will be open all 4 days over the Easter weekend.
Come along to Gillingham Pier, come on board and have a cup of tea or coffee and drink in the atmosphere on board a real World War 2 heroine.
She will then be open every Saturday from 11.00 am until 3 pm until later in the year.