Wearside Echoes: Anchors away!

ALL AT SEA: The Mona's Queen - built as a passenger ferry for the Isle of Man Steam Packet Company - but later used in the Dunkirk evacuations.
ALL AT SEA: The Mona's Queen - built as a passenger ferry for the Isle of Man Steam Packet Company - but later used in the Dunkirk evacuations.
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AN anchor forged in Sunderland will form the centrepiece of a Second World War tribute to be unveiled on the Isle of Man.

The 3.5-ton relic, crafted by WL Byers & Co for the TSS Mona’s Queen, sank with the ship during the evacuation of Dunkirk in May 1940.

After being raised from the seabed as part of 70th anniversary celebrations, the anchor is to become a memorial to Manx sailors who lost their lives in the war.

“I believe it is a worthy tribute to our men,” said Captain Jack Ronan, who campaigned to have the anchor sited at Kallow Point on the Isle of Man – in a position facing Dunkirk.

“Two of my uncles and a cousin were on Mona’s Queen when she sank. They were lucky to escape with their lives. Many more were not so lucky and this is a memorial to them all.”

The 2,756-ton TSS Mona’s Queen was built as a passenger ferry for the Isle of Man Steam Packet Company in 1934, by Cammell Laird of Birkenhead, at a cost of £201,250.

The outbreak of war in 1939 saw her requisitioned by the Government as a personnel carrier and, in early 1940, she helped evacuate hundreds of refugees from Dutch and French ports.

Thousands of troops were also transported to safety, including 2,000 from Boulogne on May 22, 1940, and a further 1,200 from Dunkirk just a few days later.

But her record during the Dunkirk evacuation was to be short.

On May 29, 1940, as she sailed for France with supplies of water, Mona’s Queen hit a mine near Dunkirk harbour.

The ship took just two minutes to sink, with the loss of 24 crew – 17 from the Isle of Man. A further 31 sailors, including Captain A Holkman, were plucked from the sea by rescuers.

“Dunkirk is widely regarded as the Steam Packet Company’s finest hour,” said Jack. “Eight vessels helped save 24,669 servicemen – one in 14 of the troops landed back in Britain.”

Today the wreck of Mona’s Queen is classed as a war grave but, after French divers discovered that her anchor had become detached, a campaign was launched to salvage it.

The operation in 2010 was filmed by the BBC and, as a crane finally lifted the rusted anchor from the water, a 12-gun salute rang out from HMS Monmouth.

“It is the only anchor from a ship lost at Dunkirk during Operation Dynamo to be raised from the seabed,” said Jack, who worked for the Steam Packet Company for 40 years.

“But we would like to know more about it. We know that it was forged at WL Byers & Co, but not much more than that.

“Hopefully Echo readers might be able to help.”

The anchor, which features the swastika trade mark of the WL Byers foundry, has been restored by workers at Cammell Laird.

Hundreds of people are expected to gather at Kallow Point for the unveiling on May 29.

“My father served on Mona’s Queen for a year in 1935, and she was the first ship I ever trod the boards of – going to see him there as a little boy – before I went to sea too,” he recalls.

Jack followed in his father’s footsteps to join the merchant navy as a teenager. In 1951, he took his Efficient Deck Hand exam in Sunderland – and still has fond memories of the town.

“We used to load coal in Sunderland and Newcastle, then bring it down south. After that, we’d bring concrete from the south to the north. I did that for quite a few years,” he said.

“Whenever I was up north, I’d try to get to Roker Park to watch a match. I remember watching Len Shackleton several times.

“Although the Mona’s Queen anchor was forged in Sunderland, it is considered part of Manx national heritage too.”

l Can you help Jack? Write to him c/o Sarah Stoner, Sunderland Echo, Pennywell, Sunderland SR4 9ER or email sarah.stoner@northeast-press.co.uk