Second World War lifesaving yacht's new fundraising mission

Tommy Morrison, Tony Billson and Michael (Jack) Hawkins.

Tommy Morrison, Tony Billson and Michael (Jack) Hawkins. - Credit: NNUH NHS Foundation Trust

A motor yacht which rescued British soldiers at Dunkirk in 1940 is to set sail on a new mission to raise vital funds for charity.

Tony Billson spent five years painstakingly restoring the yacht Estrallita and researching her history.

Next month Mr Billson will set off from Lowestoft alongside fellow Royal Navy veterans Tommy Morrison and Michael (Jack) Hawkins, who served on the HMS Bulwark in the 1970s.

The Estrallita

The Estrallita - Credit: NNUH NHS Foundation Trust

The journey next month, setting off on May 19, will include a Dunkirk plaque-laying ceremony taking place in Portsmouth and a trip up the Thames to take part in the 40-year Falklands War commemorations.

Members of the public will be invited to board the yacht and learn more about its history, with donations welcomed in aid of the Jenny Lind Children's Hospital, in Norwich, where Mr Billson's daughter Rachel Chaudhary works, as well as for the armed forces charity SSAFA.

Mr Billson, from Diss, found the Estrallita in a poor state in Ramsgate, and had no idea about her vast history, which has included tragedy, celebrity, name changes and a commendable wartime record.

Between 1940 and 1945 the Estrallita was used by the Royal Navy as a harbour patrol boat in Poole, defending against invasion and to rescue downed pilots in the English Channel.

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Mr Billson said: "Last year, we took her out for the first time and sailed to Ramsgate so now we are aiming to go even further, raising as much money as possible for the two charities.”

During Mr Billson's research, he discovered Estrallita had operated as a harbour patrol vessel at Poole during the Second World War.

Lynn Crombie, NNUH fundraising co-ordinator said: “It is fantastic that a little boat with such a colourful history which has saved lives is now going to heling to raise money to improve the lives of our young patients at the Jenny Lind.

"We wish Tony and his crew a safe time at sea as they embark on this wonderful coastal journey."

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The Estrallita's duties during the Second World War were to protect the harbour channels, and specifically to block the channels if there was an invasion by sinking designated block ships or, as a last resort, to sacrifice herself to delay any advance.

Estrallita was one of six vessels deployed for this purpose but was the only one that was retained throughout the war.

In 1960s the vessel was owned by Hughie Green as a place to stay during the summer season going from resort to resort and it was on one of these excursions from Shoreham to Morecambe that Mr Green became involved in a rescue off the coast of Cornwall after spotting red flares at sea.

No other ship responded to the call for help, believing the flares to be regular RAF flares which were regularly used.

Mr Green successfully campaigned for red flares to only be used at sea in distress which is the case today.