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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.




She spoke of teenagers, boys, who had been blinded or with horrible injuries to limbs

Phil, UK
Several years ago my grandmother began speaking to my brother and I about her experience of the Dunkirk evacuation. This came as a surprise to us as she had never mentioned us previously. As a young woman, my grandmother would leave her native South Wales in order to work in guesthouses on the English South Coast. In the summer of 1940 she found herself in Margate and was called upon to help give treatment to those arriving back on English soil. She spoke of teenagers, boys, who had been blinded or with horrible injuries to limbs. This was the last time I saw my grandmother as, sadly, shortly after, she died. However, I am so glad she spoke about this as we would never have known of her involvement in Dunkirk. I am immensely proud of the part she played, albeit small, but significant. We must NEVER forget.
Phil, UK

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.
Tony Kerr, UK

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.
Norman Clark, Scotland

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".
Carole Morgan, Australia

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.
Janet McCarthy, Republic of Ireland

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.
Ewen Cameron, Scotland

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!
Andrew Hetherington, London, UK

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!
S Fox, England



Only the timely intervention of an officer who knew my Grandad stopped him being shot there and then

Andy McNamara, UK
My Grandad, Fred Watkinson, was a corporal in the RASC at Dunkirk. I am not sure what day he arrived or how long he was on the beach. He told me he discovered/ found a lorry and used it to push some of the little boats off the beach that were loaded down with men. He was lucky enough to get on the last boat to leave - the Isle of Man ferry. As he was boarding the boat, he was questioned by MPs who were looking for infiltrators. When he told the MP what unit he was in, the MP held a pistol to his head and accused of him of being a German spy, because that unit had left days ago. Only the timely intervention of an officer who knew my Grandad stopped him being shot there and then.
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.
Ravinder Singh, UK



My uncle, the late Dr Myer Herman was in charge of a field hospital at Dunkirk and was on one of the last ships to leave the area

Maurice Herman, Israel
My uncle, the late Dr Myer Herman was in charge of a field hospital at Dunkirk and was on one of the last ships to leave the area. He was supposed to have left earlier but the hospital ship was crippled by Nazi fire. He and his staff managed to transfer almost all the wounded to other ships and for this act he was cited in dispatches to his Majesty, the King. Later in the war he served in Burma and told us many stories from that theatre of action too. After the war, he continued to serve his fellow men and worked for the American Joint Distribution Committee attending to the plight of needy Jews in Morocco and Iran. He eventually ended up in America where he worked in public medicine in the State of Massachusetts before he died from cancer.
Maurice Herman, Israel



One ship was bombed in the harbour and went down so quickly that he said it was like being in an elevator

Linda, Yorkshire England
My father, Warrant Officer Phil Crawford Robson, Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers, was on the beaches at Dunkirk for at least 7 days. Two of his attempts to be rescued ended in disaster - one ship was bombed in the harbour and went down so quickly that he said it was like being in an elevator. He only had a few minutes to jump off the ship. The second ship was hit out at sea and he had to swim ashore. Third time lucky, he was picked up by another smaller vessel and eventually landed in England wearing someone else's boots, a pair of shorts and a piece of tarpaulin around his shoulders. He hadn't slept or eaten for almost 5 days. My mother had been told that he was officially reported missing, presumed dead. She was totally stunned and amazed when she returned home from work one day and found him sitting in the kitchen
Linda, Yorkshire England



My father, having been schooled on board the training ship "Conway", was able to navigate the boat successfully back to England

Nigel Parry, Britain
While celebrating the bravery of the crews of the "small ships" and the Royal Navy in evacuating the majority of the BEF, let us also remember that a small number of British soldiers made their escape on their own initiative. My father, Sgt. Hugh Parry, was among a party of Royal Engineers detailed to cause damage to the road systems leading to Dunkirk to slow the German advance. They, together with others of the rearguard, were then not able to reach the evacuation beaches themselves. They made their way along the coast to Brest and commandeered a French coastal coal-transport vessel. My father, having been schooled on board the training ship "Conway", was able to navigate the boat successfully back to England. I'm sure that there must be several stories of individual escapes like this.
Nigel Parry, Britain



Everyone did their part in the evacuation - land, sea and air

Richard Godivala, UK
My grandfather served in the RAF during and after the war. From what he has told me, one of the lowpoints regarding the evacuation from Dunkirk, was the view soldiers had of the airmen. Many soldiers, it seems, felt let down by the RAF because there was no visible defence against the German air attacks. The soldiers weren't to realise that the RAF fighter force was intercepting the Luftwaffe further inland, and only a small proportion reached the beaches. The feeling against the RAF was so strong it seems, that people in RAF uniforms were actually attacked by British soldiers after the evacuation was complete. Everyone did their part in the evacuation - land, sea and air. The RAF didn't abandon the soldiers anymore than the Navy did.
Richard Godivala, UK



He had never seen the sea so calm and the soldiers so confident

Marc Jones, UK
My grandfather Gwyn Richards, then a Sergeant, made it out from Dunkirk on June 1st, 1940, after somehow navigating his way back on the retreat. He never talked about it very much, despite the fact that June 1st was one of the worst days of German bombing. However he used to say, with some amazement, that he had never seen the sea so calm and the soldiers so confident that the Royal Navy would be there to save them.
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.
Jonathan Addleton, Jordan

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.
Jill Marsden, USA

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!
Keith Alden , USA



We were aware there was something major happening

June Glaister, Australia
My husband to be was evacuated from Dunkirk. I had not met him at that time. I was working as a process clerk at a munitions factory in northwest England. There was no information given out at the time, but we were aware there was something major happening, from the BBC news on the radio. My most vivid memory was of the "little boats" working so hard to save our lads and returning to the dangers of the open sea. My husband took some time off following the evacuation and we met at a dance in our home town. The evacuation was prominent in my husband's mind, particularly the German's attacks on the beaches. We married after the War, and had four children. He died in 1972. But for the delivery of the soldiers on that day, my life would have been so different.
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.
Audrey Blake, USA

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.
Roy Robinson, Canada

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15 May 00 | UK
Dunkirk: Lest we forget
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