A HISTORIC boat which helped save 600 British soldiers from wrath of the Nazis has been brought back to its Burnham home.

On May 30 in 1940, the British army was trapped by German forces at Dunkirk in Northern France, facing certain annihilation.

It was thanks to the then Prime Minister Winston Churchill and his Operation Dynamo which saw hundreds of little civilian ships sent across the channel to rescue more than 300,000 men, bringing them back home.

Vanguard, a 45ft flush-decked river boat, was one of these little ships, which set off from the Petticrow’s Steps in Burnham, joined by the larger Seasalter, another oyster craft and the pleasure yacht Ma Joie.

Vanguard remains the only surviving boat of the original three sent from Burnham to Dunkirk. On Friday, it was transported from Canvey Island to Mangapps Railway Museum to begin the long process of restoration.

Burnham Town Councillor Nick Skeens announced the news at a town council meeting on Tuesday.

He said: “This is a fantastically exciting development which I’m so pleased to be sharing with council members.

“The Vanguard represents an extremely proud piece of Burnham’s history which I feel has the potential to turn into a fantastic project for the town.

“John Jolly, owner of the railway museum, has kindly agreed to store her there for the foreseeable future, and we have a committed group of Burnham residents keen to get her restored to former glory.

“At the moment, she is in extremely poor condition and worth next to nothing, but I propose that we as a council take ownership of her and oversee the project to change that.”

Vanguard has spent the last ten years being cannibalised for firewood at Smallgains Yard on Canvey Island.

The yard-owner, Anton Weekes, has donated her to the town council.

Through research by teacher Alan Bellchambers, it was found that designed by Burnham Marine Architect Norman Dallimore, and built at Prior’s Boatyard in 1937.

Nick Skeens organised her transport back to Burnham to save further vandalism, with the transport being paid for by Burnham resident David Hopkins. Stuart Robinson lifted her from the lorry, which was touch and go, as Vanguard’s vandalism had severely damaged her.

Nick Skeens told the council meeting that the estimated cost to restore Vanguard will be between £250,000 and £500,000.

A Facebook page has been set up for people to monitor the project’s progress and get involved.

Nick added: “We have the shipwright expertise and we have the facilities to rebuild her. Now it’s all about raising the money.”

Visit http://bit.ly/2nn2NF4.

Vanguard's Dunkirk role

The oyster dredger Vanguard, a 45ft flush-decked river boat, was joined by the larger Seasalter, another oyster craft and the pleasure yacht Ma Joie as they set sail for Dunkirk under admiralty orders for Operation Dynamo on May 30 1940.

They arrived off the Dunkirk beaches at around 6.45pm, to find themselves the only little ships there. They were directed away from the harbour mole, which was crowded with men, towards the beaches where they began ferrying soldiers out to the larger naval boats.

Under heavy fire from dive-bombers and fighters, they struggled through that perilous spring evening, weaving through the detonating fountains of water in their heroic efforts to bring as many soldiers to safety as possible.

Ma Joie had to be abandoned on the beach with a damaged rudder. Between them they saved around 600 soldiers from the Dunkirk beaches.

Of those three ships, the Vanguard is the only remaining survivor today.