Dunkirk ship on course for 80th anniversary reunion after Hartlepool restoration

A ‘little ship’ that rescued 900 men during the evacuation of Dunkirk is on course to sail to France for this year’s 80th anniversary reunion after being restored in Hartlepool.

Friday, 10th January 2020, 6:00 am

MV Coronia was one of 700 small boats that answered the country’s call on May 29 in 1940 to help rescue hundreds of thousands of Allied troops from the beaches of Dunkirk where they were surrounded by the Germans.

For more than two years since being bought from Scarborough by Graham Beesley, she has been the focus of a major restoration and fundraising effort to return her to her former glory.

After fantastic support from volunteers, including many skilled tradesmen, Coronia is on schedule to be ready to cross the English Channel again for May’s 80th anniversary of Operation Dynamo.

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Volunteer Tom Hind working on the MV Coronia at Hartlepool Marina. Picture by FRANK REID

Graham, 64, said: “We have a nucleus of skills and volunteers from the town who have all stuck together.

“Our aim at the start was to take the boat back to Dunkirk for the 80th anniversary of Operation Dynamo and we are still on target.

“This boat played a major part in that episode.

“There are still 55 existing Dunkirk little ships, this being one of them, that will meet up at Ramsgate and a naval escort and two RNLI lifeboats will cross the channel in a square convoy.

Graham Beesley alongside the MV Coronia as she is undergoing restoration while berthed in Hartlepool Marina. Picture by FRANK REID

“It is quite an event.”

Coronia was built by Fellows & Co in Great Yarmouth in 1935 for Longfield. During the war she was commandeered and renamed HM Tender Watchful by the admiralty to replenish warships with supplies.

During Dunkirk she helped take Allied troops from the beach out to the bigger destroyers that could not get close enough to the shore.

She then took 900 troops back to England by making a further three journeys across the channel.

Graham Beesley in the new wheelhouse of the MV Coronia. Picture by FRANK REID

Coronia has had a major revamp while in Hartlepool including a new funnel, generator, and wheelhouse, all done in the original style.

Pauline Field has overseen the fundraising, supported by a dedicated group of volunteers.

Money has been raised from giving talks on the project, fundraisers at the Small Crafts Club and serving refreshments on board to visitors for donations.

People are welcome to visit Coronia at Navigation Point.

Volunteer fundraisers enjoy a cuppa on MV Coronia. Picture by FRANK REID
Pauline Field is responsible for the fundraising side of MV Coronia's restoration and runs the boat's coffee shop. Picture by FRANK REID