Dunkirk ship Willdora back afloat thanks to Sunderland Maritime Heritage and Liebherr Cranes - historic vessel refloated in Wear 81 years after she rescued 200 soldiers

An army of Sunderland workers have helped to restore a piece of British history.

Thursday, 23rd September 2021, 2:25 pm
The fantastic restoration of the Sunderland Maritime Heritage ship Willdora which has been carried out by Liebherr in Sunderland.
The fantastic restoration of the Sunderland Maritime Heritage ship Willdora which has been carried out by Liebherr in Sunderland.

The Dunkirk little ship Willdora is back afloat after a huge joint effort between city-based Liebherr Cranes and the ship’s owners at Sunderland Maritime Heritage.

Big-hearted Liebherr supplied staff, expertise, materials and plenty of hard work on the Willdora.

It also gave a home to the vessel while a ‘serious rehaul’ was carried out on the ship which once rescued 200 soldiers from the beaches of Dunkirk during the evacuation of 1939 in the Second World War.

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The new-look Willdora gets ready to go back in the water.

She had to be towed back to the Wear and lifted out of the water for repairs and replacement parts. Willdora was taken to Liebherr where its superb teams spent many hours on dedicated work.

Now the ship is afloat once more and skipper Bob Crompton said: “Sunderland Maritime Heritage would like to express its deep gratitude for all the help and assistance provided by Liebherr Cranes during this serious refit.”

Liebherr production manager Barry Barraclough said: “It’s been an absolute honour for Liebherr to assist the guys at Sunderland Maritime Heritage with such an historic project like the Willdora over the last months.

The fantastic moment arrives as Willdora is relaunched back into the Wear.

"We were first approached by Bob and his team and asked if they could use our cranes to lift the Willdora out and keep it on our quayside during restoration. “We also offered help where we could with materials for the project and also let our apprentices such as fitters, electricians, platers, welders and painters get involved.

"Our apprentices found it fascinating to be working on a boat that had rescued soldiers from Dunkirk during the Second World War and that was steeped in so much history.

Willdora is a veteran of Operation Dynamo – the evacuation of 350,000 allied troops from the beaches of Dunkirk and Le Panne in 1940.

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.

The resplendent Willdora is back on the water.

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.

Barry added: “The Willdora for sure will always have a place in our hearts and has been a talking point in the factory while watching the project develop.

"It was such a lovely site to see when it went back in the water looking brand new. To see it sail off down the river on a sunny day with all the guys from Sunderland Maritime Heritage on board was a real pleasure to watch after all the hard work they put in to it over the last few months.”

SMH has enjoyed an unforgettable few months.

Workers at Liebherr were delighted to work on the Willdora project.

To find out more about SMH, visit www.sunderlandmaritimeheritage.org.uk.

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Sunderland's maritime skills have been shown in all their glory with the refit of Willdora.
On board the Dunkirk little ship Willdora.
Willdora arrives for her refit.
The Willdora arriving at the start of her refit.
The Willdora pictured before her refit started.