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The charity behind the restoration of Vanguard, the beautiful oyster dredger that helped rescue hundreds from the beaches of Dunkirk, is launching an appeal to find the soldiers she helped to save. It is also launching an appeal to secure the necessary funding to rebuild Vanguard at a training college in Lowestoft.

The news comes as Britain prepares to commemorate Remembrance Day 75 years after the end of World War II. Says Vanguard Restoration Foundation spokesperson, Nick Skeens, ‘teaming up with Lowestoft’s International Boatbuilding Training College means we will now be able to restore Vanguard to the condition she was in when she joined two other boats from Burnham-on-Crouch in Essex to rescue soldiers from the Dunkirk beaches. We are appealing to the public to help us secure the necessary money.’

‘600 soldiers were taken off the beach by Burnham boats Vanguard, Sea Salter and Ma Joie. Who were these soldiers? Can you help? Could it have been you, your brother, your granddad, dad or soldiers from your regiment? We’d love to know.’

In May 1940, Prime Minister Winston Churchill ordered private boats to go to Dunkirk to help rescue the stranded British army in a naval operation codenamed Operation Dynamo. The boats taking part became known as the Dunkirk Little Ships. With her crew of local fishermen, Vanguard was among the first to answer the call, sailing from Burnham on 30th May 1940 alongside Sea Salter, a larger oyster dredger and the yacht Ma Joie. The Burnham flotilla was dive-bombed and strafed as they ferried desperate soldiers from the beach to larger boats that were too big to get close to the beaches.

Vanguard was built for working the rivers rather than the open sea, so the crossing itself would have been dangerous enough even before the crew faced the wrath of the Luftwaffe. She returned to England on 31st May 1940 protected by thick fog and loaded with grateful soldiers. Ma Joie did not make it back and Sea Salter has since been broken up. Only Vanguard remains.

Decades later Vanguard was sold and abandoned on Canvey Island. Vandals set her alight twice, others ripped her planks away for firewood and she was left to rot – a shameful end for such a heroic craft. But recently she was rescued by a group of enthusiasts who brought her home to Burnham-on-Crouch to begin the next chapter in her life.

For that we need YOUR HELP:

The Vanguard Restoration Foundation, a registered charity, aims to fully restore Vanguard so she can become a living, sailing history lesson for schoolchildren, visitors and locals. The aim is to get her ready for a return to Dunkirk in June 2025 to take part in celebrations marking the 85th Anniversary of the Dunkirk Miracle.

The charity has teamed up with Mike Tupper of IBTC (International Boatbuilding Training College) in Lowestoft. The College will undertake the full restoration and use her to teach students traditional boat building skills. The whole project will cost £500,000, including scholarships so people of all ages can learn shipwright skills and take part in her restoration.

Vanguard saved hundreds of soldiers, part of an operation that saved this country in its darkest hour. Now it is your chance to help save her. We need as many people as possible to give just a few pounds. Please can you be one of them? There are so few Dunkirk Little Ships left and the story of Vanguard and her part in Operation Dynamo must live on for future generations. We must never forget those who risked their lives for us.

Please help Vanguard become, once again, a living symbol of the Dunkirk Spirit.

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hi i am very happy to see that there are people that still wish to save the little ships from firewood .....i have a little ship called Inanda with a brass plaque DUNKIRK 1940 ..she is also in need of full restoration well she is still in the water and happy to float


Jessica Gosling
Jessica Gosling

Hello, my name is Jessica and to me this is devastating. I wondered what happened to this little ship. As years ago I was on this boat going down the Thames behind the HMS Belfast. I loved this beauty, the smell, the noise. This vessel was stunning. I'm hoping be able to help in some way, I have photos of this little ship in Purfleet. I hoping to raise some money to go towards the rebuild of this historical beauty.

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