Gloucester's Dunkirk little ship with a big history
By David Wood
A quiet corner of Gloucester is home to the popular trip boat Queen Boadicea II.
Known affectionately as QBII, she is a ship with a history that includes a royal connection, distinguished war record and a trailblazing businesswoman of the 1930s.
A new outdoor exhibition, Little Ship. Big History, from the National Waterways Museum, Gloucester (run by the charity Canal & River Trust) looks at the history of the ship and the two illustrious figures that played key roles in QBII's story.
QBII was built in 1936 as a passenger pleasure cruiser for Mrs Charlotte Smith. Known as the 'Queen of the Thames' Mrs Smith was, at that time, reported to be the only female skipper of a passenger carrying vessel on the Thames.
The outdoor exhibition tells the story of Mrs Smith with images and information researched by the team at the National Waterways Museum, Gloucester.
It then goes on to explore the next chapter when, after just four years of taking passengers from Westminster to Gravesend, QBII was set on course for a different destination - Dunkirk. In 1940 she was requisitioned as one of the Second World War's Dunkirk Little Ships taking part in the evacuation of troops from northern France.
The National Waterways Museum, Gloucester is delighted to be able to display items, including medals and letters, donated by the family of Alan Spong, one of QBII's crew on her rescue mission.
After spending the rest of the war as a Naval Auxiliary Vessel QBII returned to civilian life on the Thames, but it was not long before a call came to again be part of history.
In 1953, adorned with the heraldic shields of 12 great Livery companies of the City of London, she sailed in the Queen's Coronation Pageant. Reflecting this earlier royal connection, QBII will once again be decorated with shields, this time from the places she has spent her working life.
From the 1950s through to the 1980s, QBII could be found as a trip boat back on the Thames and then in Dartmouth and Plymouth before coming to the National Waterways Museum Gloucester.
QBII now spends summers taking passengers along the Gloucester & Sharpness Canal.
As Anna Finn, community development & attractions manager for the Canal & River Trust explains: "We are especially proud of our little ship and have been carrying out maintenance and refurbishment of her over the winter so that visitors can enjoy getting back on board in 2023.
"She is also the centre of attention for TV and film crews, including BBC Breakfast and Celebrity Antiques Road Trip, definitely continuing to be a little ship with a big history."
The National Waterways Museum, Gloucester is open from Tuesday to Saturday from 10am to 4pm.
Tickets give unlimited return visits for 12 months and cost: Adult (16+) £8.50; Child (6-15) £5.00; Child (5 and under) Free; Family £22.00; Concession £7.50.
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