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Teddington war veteran Stanley Holtom has recalled his remarkable childhood adventure when at the age of just 8 years old, he accidentally took part in the Dunkirk Little Ships rescue mission in 1940 when he stowed away on a boat in the famous Tough’s boatyard.

Stanley is telling his story via a podcast to celebrate the bicentenary of the charity, the RNLI on 4 March 2024. An episode is being released every day for 200 days, exploring captivating stories from the charity’s history.
Stanley tells how he and a childhood friend Peter – he cannot remember his last name – also aged 8, visited the boatyard, which is now the current site of the RNLI Lifeboat station.
The pair found themselves on one of the Dunkirk Little Ships flotilla sailing out of Teddington, then on to Ramsgate and across to Normandy.
In the podcast, he says: “I was a stowaway on one of the rescue cabin cruisers send over to Dunkirk to rescue members of the Expeditionary Forces. I stayed overnight with Peter when he said he had to go down to the boatyard to meet his father at Tough’s boatyard. It was a really frenzy with lots going on.
“Peter’s father said ‘Come on you boys, get on the boat we’ve got to take the boat down river.’ He told us to go down below and went all down the river and I remember going under Tower Bridge and finished up at Ramsgate.
“Peter’s father was told there weren’t another people to take the boats over the channel so we hid down below. I can remember the bombs coming down and seeing a flock of boats like a flock of bords.
“You could see the beach because we could it so much closer and I could see what looked like ants but they were men, some were wounded and some were being carried. Peter’s father said we we could help so we came up from our cubby hole to help them. We laid a couple of soldiers down and the medic helped us and one of them didn’t make it – the first person I ever saw die.”
His fascinating experience took him near to the beaches, avoiding enemy bombardment and rescuing ten soldiers and bringing them home to England.
Stanley said: “I am pleased to share this story of my accidental boyhood adventure, especially as it started just down the road in Teddington where today’s lifeboat station stands I am grateful to the RNLI for all that it does to saves lives at sea and on our river.’
The RNLI has been saving lives at sea since it was founded in 1824 and in that time, its lifeboat crews and lifeguards have saved over 144,000 lives. Funded by voluntary donations, and with lifeboats crewed by specially-trained volunteers, the RNLI is a unique rescue organisation with a remarkable 200-year story to tell – many highlights of which are shared through the podcast series.

Available across all podcast platforms and the RNLI’s website, listeners can hear from survivors, supporters, volunteers, lifeguards, celebrity ambassadors, historians and many more from across the UK and Ireland – and beyond.

The 200 Voices series also includes celebrity ambassadors such as The Sixth Commandment actor Timothy Spall, Gavin and Stacey actor, Ruth Jones, Irish musician Phil Coulter, gold medal Olympian Sir Ben Ainslie and BAFTA-winning actor, Joanna Scanlan.

Listen to Stanley’s story and the other RNLI’s 200 Voices wherever you get your podcasts or at

A total of 19 RNLI lifeboats were among the armada of little ships that travelled to Dunkirk as part of Operation Dynamo, including volunteer crews from Margate and Ramsgate who helped save 3,400 lives.


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