WATCH: Dunkirk veteran could sail again when Tall Ships visit Sunderland

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A WAR veteran is set to be restored to former glories to play a part in Sunderland’s Tall Ships celebration.

The Willdora started her life on the seas a fishing trawler and was commandeered to help rescue more than 200 men from the beaches of Dunkirk during the Second World War.

HISTORIC WORK: Sunderland Maritime Heritage is restoring former Dunkirk ship Willdora.

HISTORIC WORK: Sunderland Maritime Heritage is restoring former Dunkirk ship Willdora.

Now, after being sunk by enemy gunfire in the conflict and again later by neglect and vandalism, she is being prepared for the seas once again.

The vessel, built in 1901, is being restored by Sunderland Maritime Heritage in the East End.

And its members hope she will be ready in time for the Tall Ships Race when it is hosted on the Wear in 2018.

The Willdora was involved in leading out ships when the event came to Newcastle in 1993, and was off Seaburn during the Battle of Britain flypast at the Sunderland International Airshow in 1998.

To have it finished and see it at the Tall Ships would be fantastic.

Chris Carolan, vice chairman of Sunderland Maritime Heritage

Chris Carolan, vice chairman of the maritime heritage group, said: “It’s a historical boat in its own right, especially because it was at Dunkirk.

“It was in my ownership and the cost to maintain it - just to get it lifted, with craneage costs - was tremendous, so when I decided to sell it on, the Heritage heard about it and said they would have a go.

“Raising the money as a charity is easier because you can apply to the lottery and it gives us something to work on.”

As part of the restoration work, the team has removed all the rotted sections, one side of the bulwarks - the upper sides of the boat above the deck - and the wood of the decks.

HISTORIC WORK: Chris Carolan of Sunderland Maritime Heritage on board the Willdora.

HISTORIC WORK: Chris Carolan of Sunderland Maritime Heritage on board the Willdora.

The boat, which is 55ft long, 16ft wide and weighs 30 tonnes, is on the dockside at the Port of Sunderland, while a new cabin is being built in the charity’s workshop in Church Street.

Chris added: “It’s difficult because of the weather, and even if you go out when there’s a bit of a wind, the chill factor is terrible.

“There’s only the summer months, and we’re only down here on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, and we’re all volunteers.

“To have it finished and see it at the Tall Ships would be fantastic.

WAR VETERAN: Sunderland Maritime Heritage are restoring the Willdora, which took part in the Dunkirk evacuations during the Second World War.

WAR VETERAN: Sunderland Maritime Heritage are restoring the Willdora, which took part in the Dunkirk evacuations during the Second World War.

“We don’t know if she will be allowed, but we’re going to ask the organisers and we hope it will be part of it, because we’ve seen it come out of the Tyne and we would like to see it do something similar in Sunderland.”

In the long term, the charity hopes to take passengers down the River Wear and out to sea during events such as Heritage Open Days.

The boat has also previously been used as a camera ship to film scenes in the 1970s drama series Onedin Line.

The group has been backed by the Heritage Lottery Fund and Voluntary and Community Action Sunderland.

Volunteers are needed to boost the team as it expands its workshop, with experts in caulking among those needed.

The unit, which features a museum, is open from 10am to 4pm on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.

RESTORATION WORK: Volunteers are hoping to make the Willdora seaworthy once again.

RESTORATION WORK: Volunteers are hoping to make the Willdora seaworthy once again.

For more details call 510 2540.

NEGLECTED: The volunteers are having to replace rotted sections of the Willdora.

NEGLECTED: The volunteers are having to replace rotted sections of the Willdora.