BENEATH blue skies and facing out to the sea in the direction, ultimately, of Dunkirk, the anchor of the Mona’s Queen found its final resting place.
In a moving ceremony on the tranquil headland of Kallow Point, Port St Mary, the anchor was dedicated as a memorial to the 24 crewmen – 17 of those from the Isle of Man – who lost their lives when the Isle of Man Steam Packet Co. vessel Mona’s Queen struck a German mine during the heroic evacuation of the British and French troops from Dunkirk in May 1940.
The highlight of the ceremony came as the Steam Packet fast craft Manannan sounded its horn as its sailed past.
Bright sunshine ensured a large turn-out for the event, which began to the evocative sound of the Ellan Vannin Pipe Band.
Invited guests included families of the survivors of the Mona’s Queen’s sinking and four representatives from the French military who were closely involved in the operation to lift the anchor from the seabed at Dunkirk during the 70th anniversary commemorations of the evacuations in 2010.
Chairman of Port St Mary Commissioners Bernadette McCabe told the gathering that the day was for the families of those who had taken part in Operation Dynamo, the codename for the Dunkirk evacuations.
The flukes of the anchor are positioned so as to face towards Dunkirk on one side and, on the other, towards the Howe, where many of the Mona’s Queen’s crewmen once lived.
His Excellency Lieutenant Governor Adam Wood welcomed the guests from across the Channel in impeccable French and told the audience: ‘This is a solemn and historic day’.
He said it was hard to imagine what it was like 72 years ago when the Germany Army had swept through Belgium and Northern France in just 16 days, leaving the British Expeditionary Force and a large element of the French army surrounded at Dunkirk.
With the very real threat of the rest of Western Europe, including the UK, falling under the fist of fascism, he said, an armada of ships large and small was gathered with the aim of rescuing troops from the beaches. Included in that armada were no fewer than eight Steam Packet ships which, between them, brought nearly 25,000 troops back to Britain.
But within 24 hours, three of the Steam Packet ships had been sunk. His Excellency said the memorial would serve as a reminder of the bravery and sacrifice of those involved.
Steam Packet director Kit Pemberton said that 10 of the company’s 16 ships were commandeered for war, of which four were lost. He said the Mona’s Isle was the first to complete the round trip back to Britain during Operation Dynamo in May 1940, followed by the Mona’s Queen and then the King Orry.
At 5.30am on the morning of the May 29, Mona’s Queen struck a magnetic mine as she approached Dunkirk, causing her to ‘break her back’.
The losses incurred by the Steam Packet and its people that day were devastating, he said. He said the memorial was for the whole island and would serve as a reminder of ‘those that did not come home’. The Steam Packet has presented a cheque for £5,000 to the commissioners toward the costs and maintenance of the anchor.
Officially opening the memorial, Captain Jack Ronan said that Kallow Point had been chosen because of its tranquillity and natural aspect looking out to sea in the direction of Dunkirk – and within sight of where so many of the crewmen had lived.
‘It could not be more appropriate,’ he said, explaining that seven of the crew had hailed from the Howe and Cregneash.
He recalled that when he was a child, family conversations had often centred on the Steam Packet and the Mona’s Queen. He added: ‘When word came through she was sunk, I remember it vividly. I was 11. We stood on the pavement at The Examiner Shop, anxiously waiting for news.’
A bugler sounded the Last Post before wreaths were laid by the anchor.
After the service, Capitaine Jean-Pierre Castier of the French Navy said that it was the perfect spot for the anchor. He added: ‘It’s absolutely marvellous with this landscape and breathtaking views.’