Archivist Advice



The ADLS has a comprehensive archive of material relating to Operation Dynamo and the role of the Little Ships. In order for any boat to be accorded the privilege of wearing the 'Dunkirk 1940' plaque and flying the House Flag, that vessel must be proven to have taken part in Operation Dynamo. The Hon Archivist of the ADLS is always pleased to hear from anyone who believes their vessel participated in Operation Dynamo. Please send as much information as possible to substantiate the claim to the Hon Archivist at the following email address: info@adls.org.uk. Please note: the ADLS Archivist is unable to research the provenance of an individual vessel. The ADLS Archivist's role is to evaluate the veracity of evidence provided in support of any claim that a vessel took part in Operation Dynamo. 

I’m often asked for advice on researching individual boats, so I thought I’d put together a guide to the sources that are available. Many sources are available online, but some are only available by visiting specific institutions. A simple start is to Google (and Google Image) search the boat’s name + the word ‘boat’; this can find old sales details or articles on the vessel for example.



All commercial vessels and most pre-war pleasure boats will have been registered and had a six figure official number. This will have been carved on one of the deck beams, usually in the saloon. Using this number you can contact the UK Ship Register to purchase (for £32) a copy of her Part 1 registration (known as a 'transcript of registry') - http://www.mcga.gov.uk/c4mca/ukr-home/pleasurecraft-smallships/fees-plea... . The registry shows the boat’s name, builder, date of build, dimensions, engines and owner’s details. It should have been updated each time there was a change of owner/name etc., so it’s very useful in finding out about a boat’s history.



Lloyd’s Register of Ships was first published in 1764 to give both Lloyd’s of London underwriters and merchants an idea of the condition of the vessels they insured and chartered. The register lists a vessel’s name, and any previous names, her official number, signal code, rig, tonnage, dimensions, description of engines, date and place of building, name of builder, name of owner and port of registry. Lloyd’s Register of Yachts was published from 1879–1939, 1947–1980. Copies of the Register can be inspected at the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich.



All vessels that were commandeered during the War were listed on the Ministry of War Transport list. The Association has a copy of this list, and it shows the vessels name and owner, type of vessel, year of build, tonnage, usage, significant dates relating to her use and how much her owner was paid for her use. The Admiralty only allowed one vessel to have a particular name, so if, for example, three vessels were commandeered with the same name, two of them would be renamed. Also the Admiralty did not carry on a vessel’s registration, so after the war ex-commandeered boats were listed in Lloyd’s with no official number. This is a useful reference, but it doesn’t go into the detail of where boats were used. Vessels that were built by the Admiralty will have a number carved on the side of their stem post.




There is a website called www.naval-history.net which lists where all Naval vessels were stationed in January 1942 and it also has pages on Operations Dynamo, Aerial and Cycle. There is a search on the home page which can be used to find individual vessels, although this search is not always accurate.

In 1947 Lt Col. Orde put together ‘The Dunkirk List’ which was created using logs from the majority of the larger vessels that were at Dunkirk. It is a remarkable document, but I only know of two copies, one is in the National Maritime Museum library and the other is in the Guildhall Library in London - https://www.rmg.co.uk/discover/researchers/research-guides/research-guid... .

Other institutions worth enquiring to about commandeered vessels are the Imperial War Museum

mail@iwm.org.uk and the Naval Historical Branch in Portsmouth - Naval Historical Branch, No. 24 Store, PP20, Main Road, HM Naval Base, Portsmouth, PO1 3LU. Tel: 02392 725 187. The National Maritime Museum also has a useful page of resources - http://www.rmg.co.uk/researchers/library/research-guides/the-royal-navy/... .

The National Historic Ships Register is a useful resource - www.nationalhistoricships.org.uk .

The National Maritime Museum in Cornwall has an archive of old yachting magazines, and sometimes there are references to individual vessels in them. Search https://nmmc.co.uk/explore/databases/ and look under the ‘yacht design database’.




The British Newspaper archive - www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk is a useful reference and has been used to confirm boat’s involvement in the Evacuation. The photographer Beken of Cowes has an extensive archive of photographs of vessels on the Solent taken between 1880 and 2016. Their website www.beken.co.uk/archive.htm has a boat search form which can be used to see if they have a photo of a particular boat.


There are several online resources that relate to the commercial vessels that took part in the Evacuation. http://www.simplonpc.co.uk is a site dedicated to passenger boats and https://thameshighway.wordpress.com/2017/06/03/thames-passenger-boats-op... looks specifically at the Thames passenger boats that took part in the Evacuation. Similarly http://thamestugs.co.uk/DUNKIRK.php looks at the Thames tugs used and https://rnli.org/about-us/our-history/timeline/1940-dunkirk-little-ships talks about the RNLI lifeboats that took part. I haven’t found any similar sites directly referring to the fishing boats that went to Dunkirk, but the Grimsby Fishing Heritage Centre: https://www.nelincs.gov.uk/culture-events-and-tourism/grimsby-fishing-he... may be able to help. http://www.bargetrust.org/dunkirk is a page about Dunkirk on the Thames Sailing Barge Trust website. At the bottom of the page there are details of a book called ‘Sailing Barges – The Dunkirk Story’ by Barbara Butler.

None of the builders of our boats still exist in their original form, but some have owners clubs or there are history pages referring to their past glories - www.williamosborneownersclub.co.uk , http://rampartownersclub.com , http://www.silversmarine.co.uk/history.htm .

With the information about an owner given by Lloyd’s Register, you can find an owner’s name, address and which yacht clubs they were a member of. Some clubs had many boats that were involved with the Evacuation such as the Little Ship Club and the Royal Motor Yacht Club - https://littleshipclub.co.uk/news/how-lsc-got-involved-dunkirk-little-ships and https://www.rmyc.club/rmyc/history/ . This information can be useful in trying to figure out a boat’s home mooring. If, for example, it was seen in 1939’s Lloyd’s Register that an owner lived in Glasgow and was a member of the Royal Clyde Yacht Club, it’s reasonable to assume that the boat was based on the Clyde.

Finally there are some very interesting online sites and less well known books devoted to Dunkirk. John Richard’s website has his excellent unpublished illustrated book on the 1940 Dunkirk Evacuation made freely available for anyone to download: www.dunkirk-revisited.co.uk . Julian Wilson has written ‘To Rescue Our Soldiers’ which is a 180 page long, very detailed illustrated family history paper relating to the contribution of the Southend area's Watermen owner/operators, & the Leigh Fishing Families to Operation: Dynamo: https://www.dropbox.com/s/f3tn9vj4aia19q5/To_Rescue_Our_Soldiers-Dunkirk... . https://thedunkirkproject.wordpress.com is a site with ‘a stream of memories, first-hand accounts, poems and stories to which you are invited to add your own story, memory, family tale, poem or comment’. Steve Hastings has written an in depth book about his family’s passenger boat Tigris 1 and her involvement in the Evacuation - ‘The Tigris of Dunkirk’ ISBN 1973928248 https://m.facebook.com/The-Tigris-of-Dunkirk-109078799604859/ .


In ‘The Dunkirk Evacuation in 100 Objects’ ISBN 1526709902, Martin Mace has set out to tell the story of Operation Dynamo through 100 objects, from the wreck of a ship through to a dug-up rifle, and individual photographs to large memorials - https://www.pen-and-sword.co.uk/The-Dunkirk-Evacuation-in-100-Objects-Ha... .

John Tough - Hon Archivist June 2018

Good Luck