Tamzine. Now preserved at the Imperial War Museum, London, England. (P. Ferguson image, September 2010) Tamzine at the Imperial War Museum, London, England. The evacuation of Dunkirk took place between May 27 - June 4, 1940. (P. Ferguson image, September 2010)

The Dunkirk little ship Tamzine at the Imperial War Museum, London, England. The evacuation of Dunkirk took place between May 27 – June 4, 1940. (P. Ferguson image, September 2010)

Tempest and Tranquility

Less than 15’ in length the 1937-constructed Tamzine is believed to be the smallest of the little ships that set forth to the beaches of Dunkirk where it helped save soldiers of the British Expeditionary Force; many of whom would fight on these shores again and across Northwest Europe. Tamzine, built of Canadian spruce, is now preserved at the Imperial War Museum, London where I have stood in its virtual wake thinking upon its journey across the English Channel. What must the day have been for its skipper and those who managed to save themselves during the evacuation amidst continual attack? Carrying their saturated, weary, perhaps wounded selves over the gunwales and hopefully to safety as the Tamzine took them to larger vessels in deeper waters. Then the little vessel [and others] would turn around and do it all over again. This is the Spirit of Dunkirk.

The hull and paddles of Tamzine. (P. Ferguson image, 2010)

The oars and bottom boards (burden boards) of the Tamzine. (P. Ferguson image, 2010)

I have crossed that Channel, watched the water quake upon the hovercraft’s bow and become enchanted as the ferry plows into the deep green and blue sea, its bow rising repeatedly like a great angular shark. White water launches itself upwards to port, starboard and bow with each deep, watery slice. The cold turbulence breaks and crashes on the deck rhythmically and yet discordant. The Maestro’s baton cannot lay claim to this structure, it can only mimic as the waves have their own will and tempo…staccato, adagio, largo…it can be a tempest…it can be tranquility.

Tazmine's tiller where the Master or Captain piloted his 14.7' craft across the Channel to Dunkirk.

Tazmine’s wooden tiller and rudder were replaced with an outboard motor when its skipper piloted his 14.7′ little ship across the English Channel to Dunkirk. (P. Ferguson image, 2010)

And so as we near the day when the new Dunkirk film plays nearby and I will go, I will, I know, want to see Dunkirk, France for myself within today’s tranquility. I will want to see that landscape – that seascape of the great evacuation…and of all the ships, the large and the small, I will think of Tamzine, that little wooden craft of England and Dunkirk that would not surrender from within the tempest and whose maestro today is unknown.


The little ship itself, the Tamzine, from the British Pathe film, Dunkirk 25 Years After (1965). Tamzine at 0:19 seconds.

For more information visit: The Association of Dunkirk Little Ships.

About The Author

Paul has worked with the Paradigm Motion Picture Company since 2009 as producer, historian and research specialist. Paul first met Casey and Ian WIlliams of Paradigm in April 2007 at Ieper (Ypres), Belgium when ceremonies were being held for the re-dedication of the Vimy Memorial, France. Paul's sensitivity to film was developed at an early age seeing his first films at RCAF Zweibrucken, Germany and in Sardinia. Paul returned to Canada in 1967 and was further amazed by David Lean's "Lawrence of Arabia" and "Bridge on the River Kwai". Film captivated Paul and with time he became increasingly interested in storytelling, content development, character, direction, cinematography and soundtracks. At the University of Victoria, Paul studied and compared Japanese and Australian film and became interested in Australian film maker Peter Weir and his film "Gallipoli" (1981). Paul was entranced when he learned Weir had visited the beaches, ridges and ravines of the peninsula. The film "Gallipoli" alone led Paul on many journeys to sites of conflict in England, France, Belgium, Holland, Germany, Malta, Hawaii and Gallipoli. It was, however, when Paul watched documentary filmmaker Ken Burns, "The Civil War", that Paul understood how his own experience and insight could be effective and perhaps influential in film-making. Combining his knowledge of Museums and Archives, exhibitions and idea strategies with his film interests would be a natural progression. Paul thinks like a film-maker. His passion for history and storytelling brings to Paradigm an eye (and ear) to the keen and sensitive interests of; content development, the understanding of successful and relational use of collections, imagery and voice. Like Paul's favorite actor, Peter O'Toole, he believes in the adage “To deepen not broaden.” While on this path Paul always remembers his grandmother whose father did not return from the Great War and how his loss shaped her life and how her experience continues to guide him.


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