Dunkirk heroine to star at Yarmouth Maritime Festival

Steam tug Challenge

One of the true heroines of Operation Dynamo, the wartime evacuation of Dunkirk, will be steaming into port for the 14th Great Yarmouth Maritime Festival.

The festival over the weekend of September 7 and 8, which annually draws up to 40,000 revellers to historic South Quay, will be the first big event attended by the steam tug Challenge since the completion of major restoration work, which has taken several years.

Proud skipper Robert Allen, who has been associated with the tug since she was saved from the scrapyard by the Dunkirk Little Ships Restoration Trust in 1993, is relishing the chance to show her off in a port rich in maritime history.

'She is like a new vessel; she's even got a new boiler,' he said.

Mr Allen, a retired boat skipper from Derbyshire, said: 'She was the last steam tug on the River Thames operating up until 1974.

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'Then she was taken to St Katherine's Dock by Tower Bridge as a museum piece.

'Her owner, a large building firm, was later going to scrap her until it was realised she had been one of the Dunkirk Little Ships.

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'Her principal job was to tow some of the little boats out there, 10 or 12 at a time, and to keep the shipping lanes into Dunkirk clear by moving sunk or damaged vessels out of the way.'

After Dunkirk, she towed Maunsell Towers out to the Thames Estuary, which formed part of the defences against German invasion.

She also towed part of the Mulberry Harbour across The Channel, which played a vital role in the 1944 D-Day landings.

Later that year, a V1 flying bomb exploded in the water close to Challenge. She was badly damaged, but survived. Shrapnel holes can still be seen on the vessel.

Following her initial restoration in the 1990s she attended festivals as far afield as Holland and France; the latest work, which has taken eight years, was carried out on the south coast.

There will be a special joint ticket available for festival visitors to go aboard Challenge and the Dutch square-rigged tall ship the Morgenster which will also be offering sailing trips.

Booking for the cruises is now open online at www.maritime-festival.co.uk, or ring Great Yarmouth Tourist Information Centre on 01493-332200.

Festival activities and entertainment are free apart from river and sailing trips. A donation of £1 per visitor towards costs is welcomed.

Shanty and maritime music is performed throughout the weekend at three different venues.

Visitors will also be able to enjoy military re-enactments from East Norfolk Militia, street theatre from Inner State, Punch and Judy shows with Professor Pulson and face painting and balloon modelling.

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