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Monday, 5 June, 2000, 08:40 GMT 09:40 UK
Dunkirk: Your memories
As the UK commemorated the 60th anniversary of the evacuation of Dunkirk we asked you for your accounts and memories of the rescue.
We received many stories about family members and friends who were either on the frontline or the home front during Dunkirk. Here are some of your email highlights.
When my uncle was a small boy he lived near New Brighton, in Cheshire. One day having been given a present of a small boat he travelled across the Mersey on a ferryboat towing the small boat behind him with a piece of string. The string inevitable broke. He rushed up to the bridge and asked the captain to turn round and rescue his boat. Although the captain had to refuse his request they nevertheless struck up a long and lasting friendship.
My uncle by then a lieutenant was trapped at Dunkirk with many of his men. He managed to get all of his men into small boats. He was the last to leave taking two wounded men with him. Several miles off the beach the small boat capsized throwing every one overboard. He managed to survive for four hours holding up the injured men. Then a miracle! The same Mersey ferryboat he knew so well as a child rescued them all. Imagine his emotion when he discovered that the captain waiting to pull him from the sea was his friend from so long ago.
I hope that we will remember too that Dunkirk was not the end of British involvement in France. Too often Dunkirk is taken as the last act of the BEF. At the time part of the BEF was still with the main French army and plans were in place to send more British troops to France.
My father was in the BEF and was evacuated from Dunkirk, he spent three days in the sea waiting to be taken aboard a boat. When he returned home he complained that his feet hurt, his Grandmother replied, "What they need is a good soak in salt water Viv".
My Grandfather, Sgt. Daniel Ruth, was part of the rear guard left behind to destroy anything the Germans might use. He and his comrades had then to hide out in the cellar of a French chateau until rescued several days later by the Free French and transported to England. They gave their overcoats to French refugees on the road. Unfortunately my grandfather died before I was born so I know only what little details were passed through the family and apparently he didn't like to discuss it much. Are there any other 'rear guard' survivors out there? A heartfelt thank you to all of you for the hard won freedom we enjoy to-day.
It is right that the evacuation from Dunkirk be properly remembered and its significance be acknowledged. But what about the soldiers of the 51st Highland Division who stayed behind ?? They fought a rearguard action along with French soldiers holding up several divisions lead by Rommel. Hopelessly outnumbered, they fought on until trapped at St. Valery and out of ammunition they surrendered. There were no ships to take them home and those who survived spent the rest of the war in POW camps. Their contribution deserves to be remembered as well. At the very least they deserve a mention.
My grandfather had a story of a neighbour of his who rowed out to Dunkirk in a two man canoe to pick up a soldier and bring him back. When he got home, he turned around and did it again!
My Uncle John "Jack" Robinson was wounded at Dunkirk and evacuated by the French. He went on to fight with the rec corps in Africa (8th Army) middle east and Italy before losing a leg
in Italy during heavy fighting and being dragged to safety by a free French soldier
who returned to take him to a French field hospital. He died in 1982 I found his
medals still unopened in the GPO Box in Wax packets. We owe the French a debt!
He was a brave man!
Andy McNamara, UK
I hear over and over again about the British spirit which flourished during the wartime period. If the British Forces were so brave why did they require members of the Commonwealth forces as well? I am in no way trying to undermine the bravery of the British troops. However it hurts when no reference is made to the Commonwealth forces.
Maurice Herman, Israel
Linda, Yorkshire England
Nigel Parry, Britain
Richard Godivala, UK
Marc Jones, UK
Our oldest son, born in Inverness in 1990 on the 50th anniversary of Dunkirk, was named after his great uncle Arthur Riach of the Seaforth Highlanders who was killed at Abbeville, France on June 6, 1940 when a shell hit his bren gun carrier, having been left in France to help protect those escaping at Dunkirk.
My father was in a group of soldiers that were stranded at Dunkirk. They were told to 'report to the bandstand' in de Pain near Dunkirk, but somehow missed the rest of the unit. They spent the best part of a week hiding among the dunes and walking down the beach to try to find the rest of the unit, scavenging for food where they could. They were rescued by a ship which held rusty poles out so that my father and his could climb onto the vessel. Until his death in 1989 he used to travel to Dunkirk reunions in our home town of Hull.
After my mother died in 1987 we returned with Dad to de Pain to see whether the bandstand was still there. Sadly it was not! But we photographed him looking up and down the deserted beach.
My uncle Ron was working in Dover on this strings and wire thing they called "radar". GE came over from the US and chrome plated their machine. He did admit their first efforts were a bit crude - but they worked!
June Glaister, Australia [retired from England]
I was 8 years old in June 1940, I lived in Warrington which was a market town then 19 miles from Liverpool and 20 miles from Manchester. I remember walking home from town with my mother, as we walked through the park, there were hundreds of soldiers and sailors all sat down on the grassy areas. They all looked very tired and dirty and some had oil on them, The Salvation army people were going round giving them food in a bag. This stuck in my mind for ever, but it was only years later that I realised what those men had gone through. My Mum and I called in our church to say a prayer for them. I was so scared in 1940 that the Germans were going to invade England that I used to say my prayers every single night to keep us all safe.
My father Victor Robinson was evacuated from France after Dunkirk through St Malo on an Isle of Man boat. As they left a destroyer blew the dock gates off.
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