A visitor centre has been opened to celebrate the Medway Queen paddle steamer, famous for rescuing 7,000 men from the beaches of Dunkirk in 1940.
The centre, at Gillingham Pier, tells the story of the United Kingdom’s last estuary paddle steamer, which is due to be returned to Medway at the beginning of 2012.
The steamer became famous during the war for making seven trips to Dunkirk. Veteran Alf George, one of the men who was rescued by the Medway Queen, was at the centre’s opening ceremony.
The centre has displays telling the Medway Queen’s story, with models of the ship and other items from her past.
The Medway Queen will be fully restored when she is returned to the site next year. The hull is currently being restored in Bristol and when it returns to the River Medway it will be worked on by a team from the Medway Queen Preservation Society as well as 11 local apprentices who have been recruited through a council apprenticeship scheme.
Chairman of the Medway Queen Preservation Society, John Kempton, said: “The opening of the visitor centre is another step forward in the Medway Queen restoration project. We look forward to the continued support of the people of Medway for Medway’s historic ship.”
Medway councillor Jane Chitty said: “We’re incredibly excited to see the ship return to the waters of the river Medway and this visitor centre will allow residents and visitors to engage with the project, learn more about our rich naval past, and enjoy the restoration. My thanks go to the Preservation Society for their continued enthusiasm and support.”