Fund appeal launched to keep a historic Second World War 'little ship' afloat in Sunderland

A £2,000 campaign is under way to keep a historic piece of Second World War history alive in Sunderland.

Wednesday, 28th October 2020, 6:00 am
Updated Wednesday, 28th October 2020, 3:58 pm
Dunkirk Little Ship, The Willdora being moved into the River Wear in 2018.
Dunkirk Little Ship, The Willdora being moved into the River Wear in 2018.

The appeal to ‘Keep Willdora On The Water’ has been launched by the Sunderland Maritime Heritage group.

And it comes after the Dunkirk ‘little ship’ broke down on the Tyne during tests last month.

Skipper Bob Crompton said: “Sunderland Maritime Heritage has restored the Willdora to good working order over the last 15 years and we planned a return voyage to the Tyne to test the engine and other vessel systems.

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The Willdora pictured two years ago.

"Heading up river, just opposite the Nissan car loading dock, we unfortunately had a complete failure of the drive coupling between the gearbox and the prop shaft. With no spare coupling on board and evident damage to the gearbox flange, there was nothing we could do. Luckily no-one was injured, just our pride!

“We anchored in the middle of the fairway and contacted the Coastguard. A very obliging Tyne pilot towed us into Royal Quays marina, who were also very helpful and allowed us to tie up on their arrivals pontoon for a couple of days.”

The ship has been towed back to the Wear and Bob added Willdora will have to be lifted out of the water for repairs and replacement parts.

“The lift out is currently planned for mid November and we will take the opportunity of cleaning Willdora’s underwater hull and a few other jobs.

Restoration work on Willdora in 2013.

"Unfortunately, all this means that Willdora will not go to sea again this year and we will have some costs to get her back in sea worthy state - but, with a much improved mechanical arrangement, we can look forward to more and longer trips in 2021.”

Linda Merritt, the Trustee/Secretary of Sunderland Maritime Heritage, said a fundraising appeal had been launched and it can be accessed here.

One of its projects is the restoration and preservation of Willdora which is a Dunkirk little ship and a veteran of Operation Dynamo - the evacuation of 350,000 allied troops from the beaches of Dunkirk and Le Panne in 1940.

The Willdora in 2009.

The Willdora alone is said to be responsible for saving the lives of over 200 soldiers and to have been shelled and sunk at Dunkirk.

After remaining there for five years or so she was recovered after the war by one of the soldiers who was saved by her who had links to Sunderland.

After various uses on the Wear and Tyne she spent nearly ten years dockside at Sunderland being extensively refurbished by Sunderland Maritime Heritage.

This has been an eventful year for the heritage group.

Now officials are hoping the public will give support by backing the fundraising appeal.

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