Dunkirk ‘veteran’ takes to the seas again

IN May 1940, an unlikely flotilla of vessels was called away from the “seaside world of holidays” to sail into the hell of Dunkirk.

Steam Tug Challenge
Steam Tug Challenge

The courage of these “little ships” was praised by the Yorkshire-born writer JB Priestley in a BBC broadcast which remains one of the Second World War’s most powerful recordings.

The gallant vessels included the Steam Tug Challenge, which survived the war, and is now enjoying a new lease of life, thanks to a Yorkshire company.

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Around 400,000 Allied troops were pinned to the coast around Dunkirk in late May 1940 as Hitler’s tanks advanced.

In 11 days a makeshift flotilla of civilian and military vessels evacuated 338,000 men from Dunkirk.

Many boats, such as the Gracie Fields, never returned from Dunkirk, but the evacuation’s success showed that Britain had the courage and resources to fight on.

When the war ended, the Steam Tug Challenge went on to enjoy a more peaceful existence on the Thames.

The boat recently took pride of place at a maritime festival in Southampton which celebrated the little ships of Dunkirk.

Keighley-based Byworth Boilers has produced a new steam boiler for the Steam Tug Challenge, which means the boat is just as robust as the day it braved the waters around Dunkirk.

Next month, it is due to participate in the Great Yarmouth Maritime Festival, and the London Mayor’s Thames Festival at St Catherine’s Dock.

Byworth, which has 75 staff and a turnover of £7.8m, found out about the project to refurbish the Steam Tug Challenge from Richard Sparling, one of its retired sales engineers.

Byworth’s work means that the boat can sail on, as a memorial to all those who displayed such courage, 73 years ago.

In the words of the New York Times: “So long as the English tongue survives, the word Dunkirk will be spoken with reverence.”