How an adopted Sunderland ship played a major role in Dunkirk

Sunderland Maritime Society Dunkirk talk.
From left Chris Carolan and Tommy Rowe
Sunderland Maritime Society Dunkirk talk. From left Chris Carolan and Tommy Rowe
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An adopted Sunderland ship’s role in the Dunkirk evacuation has been celebrated to mark the release of a film about the famous rescue mission.

Members of Sunderland Maritime Heritage gave a talk at Empire Cinema in Sunniside, Sunderland, to mark the release of the Warner Brothers film Dunkirk, directed by Christopher Nolan.

Sunderland Maritime Society Dunkirk talk.

Sunderland Maritime Society Dunkirk talk.

The historians are restoring the Willdora ship, which was originally built in Scotland and went on to become one of the fleet of small vessels that answered the call for help to rescue thousands of British soldiers from the beaches of Normandy in the Dunkirk evacuation.

Chairman Tommy Rowe spoke about his father’s experiences at Dunkirk while vice chairman Chris Carolan spoke about their project to restore the ship ahead of her starring role leading the Tall Ships Race in Sunderland next year.

The talk also featured artefacts from the period.

Tommy said: “The film Dunkirk was very true to life in accordance to my father’s story that he had told me. We very much enjoyed coming to speak at the cinema and were very well looked after.”

Sunderland Maritime Society Dunkirk talk.
Tommy Rowe's father Sgt Machine Gun Northumberland FusiliersTommy Rowe

Sunderland Maritime Society Dunkirk talk. Tommy Rowe's father Sgt Machine Gun Northumberland FusiliersTommy Rowe

Benjamin Spence, marketing supervisor at Empire Sunderland, said: “We are delighted to be working with the Sunderland Maritime Heritage and it has been a pleasure organising the event alongside them.

“Visiting the cinema is all about escapism and we love to offer something extra to our customers too. The talk provided a real insight into the real-life accounts which the film portrays.

“The work the heritage are doing with regards to the Willdora ship which was at Dunkirk is fantastic. It will be a proud moment for Sunderland when the ship leads the Tall Ships in 2018.”

Willdora rescued more than 200 British servicemen before she was struck by shellfire and had to be beached. She only returned to the UK after the war when she was recognised by a former soldier.

Sunderland Maritime Society Dunkirk talk.
Tommy Rowe

Sunderland Maritime Society Dunkirk talk. Tommy Rowe

She was given the honour of leading out the Tall Ships Races out of Tynemouth in 1993 and since 2001 had been in open storage at the Port of Sunderland on a rent-free arrangement.

Sunderland Maritime Society Dunkirk talk.

Sunderland Maritime Society Dunkirk talk.