Tonnage: 26 grt (74 m3) Length: 58 ft (18 m) Beam: 12 ft 6 in (3.81 m) Draught: 5 ft (1.5 m) Propulsion: Gleniffer diesel engine, 72 hp (54 kW), single screw Speed: 10 knots (19 km/h; 12 mph) Operations: Operation Dynamo
Rescued by Lightoller - Sergeant Reg King's Dunkirk story By Gavin King
Born in an Evesham Workhouse, Sergeant Reg King was one of 130 men saved by Charles Herbert Lightoller in his small 'Sundowner' motorboat, requisitioned for a daring operation to rescue as many soldiers as possible from France in June 1940. Sergeant King would subsequently go on to work 25 years for the Worcester Fire Service, in turn saving other lives. This is Sergeant King's story, as told by his youngest son, Gavin King.
My dad Sergeant Reg King, grandad to Kahn, Alice, Harry and Emily, Great Grandad to Tommy, Poppy, Ted and Billy, was rescued by Lightoller 1st June 1940.
He was part of the rearguard who were told 'Destroy your weapons, every man for himself' the day before. The men were originally on board HMS Worcester but as she was overloaded Dad and his oppos were forced, at gun point, to clamber down the side to board Sundowner. The men were lay, like sardines, in the tiny inner quarters, one on top of another. Sundowner became a target for Stukas as she pushed away from the Worcester but as she sailed away the Stukas concentrated on the larger target and Sundowner was saved. It took ten hours to reach Ramsgate, many of the men vomiting, one over another.
When they reached harbour the men were marched immediately to a waiting train. Exhausted they fell asleep. Upon waking they realised they hadn't moved. Someone was sent to find out why. He returned with the answer...they were being held to spearhead a counter attack. They had hours of waiting before being told that order had been rescinded.
One humorous footnote: Dad recalled a message was being passed down the men to those in the bow. The message was that the bloke sailing the ship was the only officer to have survived the sinking of the Titanic. Dad heard one squaddie say 'Bloody typical...that's us fu**ed then'.
He was very proud of his affiliation with Dunkirk. He was a founder member of the Dunkirk Veterans Association and Chairman of the Worcestershire Branch, and from its inauguration worked tirelessly running jumble sales and social nights to raise funds to help members go on pilgrimage to Dunkirk each year at the end of May. Boy did those guys, and their wives, know how to party. They stayed at the same hotel, the Artevelde in DePanne, Belgium and the proprietor - only known as 'Madame', decorated the whole hotel with British flags and bunting, to welcome them every year.
I went over myself for the 50th anniversary in 1990 and to see the men March was really something. Oh the pride they displayed. Dad by that time was in a wheelchair because of Parkinson's but he was wheeled in front of his men, many of whom made it back with him in Sundowner, and it was quite a sight for this very proud son. He managed to make it to two more reunions...to be honest they couldn't stop him, but he had to be flown home from his last in 1992, when pneumonia finally caught up with him. He died a month later aged 73.
At his funeral his surviving members marched in front of the hearse at his cremation and as his coffin was borne in by six of his colleagues from Worcester Fire Service, the men of the DVA saluted and the British Legion lowered their banners. It was one helluva send off.
Text and photographs courtesy of Gavin King.
Video of Lightoller retelling his experience:
Note: I recommend watching the film in "Full Screen Mode," with speakers/headphones turned on for the full experience. To activate "Full Screen Mode," you need to click on the video title which will take you to YouTube and then click on the lower right hand box.