Courage and sacrifice were remembered as a flotilla of the heroic Little Ships arrived in Suffolk to mark the 73rd anniversary of the evacuation of Dunkirk.

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The vessels visited Ipswich for a parade and poignant quayside open-air memorial and thanksgiving service, with the ships open for the public to visit during the weekend.

Sailing up the River Orwell to Haven Marina, the ships were a magnificent sight, some of the contingent well in to their 80s, the remainder of around 700 small boats which between them help to evacuate 338,000 allied troops in Operation Dynamo.

Many of the boats that took part in the operation were never intended to go to sea and included little fishing boats, cabin cruisers, small ferries and gentlemen’s Thames launches.

The Harwich Royal British Legion Pipe Band led the parade along the dock, followed by the standard bearers of forces organisations, war veterans, cadet force groups, and civic dignitaries.

Thirteen mayors took part including the Mayor of Ipswich Hamil Clarke and mayoress Daisy Weekes, along with their counterparts from towns including Felixstowe, Colchester, Diss, Haverhill, Sudbury, the Lord Mayor of Norwich, and council chairmen and officials.

Rev Gordon Warren, a chaplain with the Association of Dunkirk Little Ships, led the service, which he said was to recall “the bravery and courageous deeds” of the small boats which took part in the rescue mission between May 27 and June 4, 1940.

He said: “The uppermost thought in people’s minds was our troops need rescuing and I have the means to help.

“It revealed the highest motivation, courage and unconditional love.

“Looking at these beautiful Little Ships, we see a stirring sacrifice and resolution in the face of a determined foe. We should never forget the deeds of these fine vessels and their crews.”

He said the actions of the crews, carried out under heavy aerial attack from the German forces, could be regarded as a miracle.

Historians agree that had the evacuation not been successful, England would almost certainly have lost the war.

The ships will sail from Ipswich at 1pm today.

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