Dunkirk Destroyer's Nameplate Presented To Royal Naval Museum

By Richard Moss | 09 February 2004
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Shows a black and white photograph of HMS Wakeful steaming through the English Channel in May 1940.

Photo: HMS Wakeful pictured just hours before she was sunk in 1940 with heavy loss of life. Picture courtesy: www.navynews.co.uk

The nameplate and crest from a World War two destroyer lost during the evacuation of Dunkirk are to be presented to the Royal Naval Museum in Portsmouth.

The relics were recovered during a maritime safety operation off the coast of Zeebrugge on the wreck of HMS Wakeful, sunk by a German torpedo on May 29, 1940.

Flemish Transport Minister Gilbert Bossuyt handed over the crest and nameplate to Britain’s ambassador to Belgium, Richard Kinchen, during a ceremony in the town of Ypres on January 26.

The plates are now awaiting delivery to the museum at Portsmouth’s historic dockyard where they will join a large collection of poignant relics and reminders from many of the old battleships of World War Two.

A spokesperson for the museum said, “we have over the years tried to collect symbolic relics from ships of the World War Two period and we have a strong collection of name plates and other memorabilia, so the pieces are going to a good home.”

Shows the recovered crest (a bronzed shield with a crown) of HMS Wakeful.

Photo: the crest of HMS Wakeful recovered during work to safeguard shipping in the English Channel. Picture courtesy: www.navynews.co.uk

In the thick of the Dunkirk rescue operation during May 29 1940, HMS Wakeful had already rescued some 600 soldiers from the beaches and was returning to Dover with a further 650 evacuees from the Bray Dunes beach at Dunkirk.

Shortly after 1.00 am she was attacked and hit by a torpedo, fired from a German E Boat. The ship broke in two and sank in 15 seconds with only 25 crew and one evacuee saved.

The Royal Navy corvette Sheldrake scuttled the wreck the following day leaving Wakeful and those who perished on board in the shallow waters of the Channel as a military maritime grave.

In 2001 the Belgian and British authorities commenced discussions about the increasing danger that the wreck, lying just 53 feet below the surface, posed to the modern deep-draught ships that use the English Channel. However the proposed plan to move the ship led to dismay among the few remaining survivors and the families of those who perished.

It was eventually decided to remove only part of HMS Wakeful’s superstructure, including funnels and navigation equipment and secure them to the ship’s side. It was during this sensitive operation that the nameplate and crest were recovered.

“These particular pieces have a special poignancy and significance,” added the spokesman for the Royal Naval Museum. “For us they are a symbolic reminder of the whole ship and of the sacrifice made by the men who perished on board.”

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