Region’s vessels to join river pageant

Boats from the region will join a spectacular flotilla reflecting Britain's maritime heritage assembled to celebrate the Queen's 60-year reign.

The 1,000-boat tribute will feature vessels from down the centuries on the River Thames – a seven-mile long procession of Dunkirk little ships, historic vessels, steam boats and tugs, rowed shallops and Dutch barges and passenger ships.

Boats from Norfolk and Suffolk taking part in the Thames Diamond Jubilee Pageant include Caister Lifeboat and a Lowestoft vessel used to help co-ordinate the Dunkirk evacuations.

Caister Lifeboat chairman Paul Garrod said it was an honour for the Bernard Matthews 2 vessel to be taking part. He said: 'We are delighted to be part of such a historic and proud event. This is a great honour for our independent lifeboat. It is a true recognition for all the hard work of not only our current crew, but everyone involved since we became independent in 1969.'

Also there will be Lowestoft-based motor torpedo boat MTB 102 which witnessed one of the most dramatic moments of the second world war – at Dunkirk.

As British and Allied troops were plucked to safety from French beaches in 1940, it was used to help co-ordinate the efforts. On board was Rear Admiral Frederic Wake-Walker, in charge of the rescue operation in the waters off Dunkirk and marshalling the ships with the aid of a loud hailer.

During Operation Dynamo, more than 300,000 troops were carried to safety by naval vessels with many of the famous 'little ships' – civilian boats of all shapes and sizes – transporting the servicemen off the beaches to the warships.

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Marine engineer Richard Basey and a group of enthusiasts have helped keep the boat in the water for more than 15 years.

He said: 'She is absolutely beautiful. I always describe her as the sexiest boat in the dock.

'We're absolutely delighted, we're honoured to be chosen to take part in the pageant. We were involved with the MTB when she was just another old boat but over the past 15 years things have changed considerably and she's quite a celebrity now.'

When the 10-day Dunkirk evacuation began in May 1940, MTB 102's captain, 21-year-old Lt Christopher Dreyer, left his Portsmouth base and headed to Dover.

Mr Basey said when the young naval officer arrived he was told by a senior officer to 'nip over to Dunkirk and see what you can do to help'.

The boat made eight trips across to France and was used by Rear Admiral Wake-Walker for the last few days of the rescue operation after a destroyer the senior officer was using as his flagship was put out of action by a bomb.

Mr Basey, chairman of a charitable trust which maintains MTB 102, added: 'The last three days of the evacuation MTB 102 was his HQ ship and he used his loud hailer to co-ordinate efforts.'

Winston Churchill and American President Dwight D Eisenhower stepped on board the boat in 1944, a few days before the D-Day landings, so they could inspect the warships taking part in the crucial operation.

Also taking part in the flotilla is Lawrence Chapman, deputy head teacher at The Ashley School Academy Trust in Lowestoft and district explorer scout commissioner for the town. He and fellow explorer scout leader Ross Richardson will be part of the 80-strong sea kayak group.

Mr Chapman said: 'We are really excited and really looking forward to the event. To be part of over 1,000 boats from all over the Commonwealth is an amazing opportunity.'

The Norfolk Skiff Club and the Broads cruiser Broad Ambition are among those taking part, as is the Yarmouth Belle, which used to take passengers on trips on the broads and is now based on the Thames.

Waverley, the last sea-going paddle steamer in the world, which was restored in Great Yarmouth, will also take part.

It was announced that the Prince of Wales will be the pageant's patron and have a key role when the event is staged during the extended Diamond Jubilee weekend in June.

Music is an integral part of the celebrations and pieces commissioned for the event will receive their world premiere on special musical barges.

Classical music, Bollywood anthems, Scottish tunes, English folk songs and military marches are some of the performances that will be staged on the river.

Downton Abbey composer John Lunn was commissioned with nine other film composers to create a new movement using the original titles of Handel's Water Music for inspiration.

Poet Laureate Carol Ann Duffy has written the words for a new song with music by composer Orlando Gough which will be performed by singers from across the Commonwealth.

Around 3,000 vessels applied to take part in the water-borne celebrations with pageant master Adrian Evans praising the high quality of those who came forward.

He added: 'I thank everyone who has responded so enthusiastically to this unique event.

'We have a wonderful collection of vessels, a wide spectrum of every type of craft from humble kayaks to magnificent tall ships, with rowed shallops, oyster smacks, steamers, cutters, cruisers and barges.'

At the centrepiece of the flotilla will be the lavishly decorated royal barge with a red and gold colour scheme.

It will carry the Queen and Duke of Edinburgh and other royals who have not been named but are likely to be the Prince of Wales and Duchess of Cornwall, and the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and Prince Harry.

The pageant will take place on Sunday June 3, and journey down river from Putney to Tower Bridge.

It will travel under 14 bridges, feature 20,000 people on the water and take 90 minutes to pass any given point.

Millions of spectators are expected to line the river banks and fill London's public spaces and it is likely to be watched by an estimated global television audience of hundreds of millions.

The flotilla will be divided into 10 sections, with the music herald barges separating each group.

It will be led by the Royal Jubilee Bells – eight church bells that will sound a quarter peal and be answered by churches along the route – and Gloriana, a hand-built 88ft rowbarge covered in gold leaf.

The first section will include rowed and paddled vessels, including Watermen's cutters, modern rowing boats, kayaks and dragon boats.

Following behind will be boats carrying the flags of the Commonwealth nations, realms, territories and dependencies.

The royal section, with support vessels from the former Royal Yacht Britannia, features the pageant's flagship, the royal barge, with a guard of honour behind.

In the fourth section will be the Dunkirk little ships, followed by a group of historic vessels.

The sixth grouping will be made up of working boats, including steam boats and tugs followed by an array of leisure vessels. Narrow boats and Dutch barges make up the eighth section with the final two groups featuring passenger vessels.

Lord Salisbury, chairman of the Thames Diamond Jubilee Foundation, said the cost of the pageant would be �10m.

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