BBC Homepage World Service Education
BBC Homepagelow graphics version | feedback | help
BBC News Online
 You are in: Talking Point: Forum
Front Page 
UK Politics 
Talking Point 
In Depth 

Harry Garrett
"I felt the embarrassment of losing"
 real 28k

Ernie Leggett
"There's not a day goes by I don't think about it"
 real 28k

Harry Garrett
"Nobody could say they weren't scared"
 real 28k

Ernie Leggett
"We thought we'd go out on a high note"
 real 28k

Friday, 26 May, 2000, 17:15 GMT 18:15 UK
Dunkirk: Your questions answered

Sergeant Harry Garrett and Private Ernie Leggett were in their early twenties when they found themselves stranded on the beaches about 60 years ago.

Now leading figures in the Dunkirk Veterans' Association, they answered your questions about their experiences on the beaches.

Arne Engøy, Norway: One gets the impression that the attacking Germans were rather reluctant to strike as hard as they were really able to. If that impression is correct - what exactly kept them back?

Garrett: It was most peculiar because we were being beaten on the way up. We were being bombed, shelled and shot from all sides.

Hitler could've wiped us out

Harry Garrett
Hitler could've wiped us out had he carried on as he was. We had no option at all, because we'd destroyed all our guns and we'd destroyed vehicles and we had nothing at all except rifles and bayonets on the beach. Of course there were machine guns, but there was very little firepower except for bullets flying around.

There are all sorts of funny stories, but I think that Hitler was hoping that they'd get an armistice from us, through Churchill. There's a lot of talk about these things, but they're not publicised. We were really elated in some respects. But then again once we got on the beach we got bombed and shot and shelled for two and a half days. It was hell on earth at the time.

Adrian Turner, US: Why is the Dunkirk Veterans' Association disbanding?

Leggett: Because we were formed as a small detachment of 30 men in Leeds, who were then young men in their twenties and thirties, but now every one of us is over 80. We decided because we were losing quite a lot of people through age and infirmity and rather than drag ourselves on we decided we'd finish on a high note.

Richard Howes, UK: How much has experiencing the evacuation of Dunkirk shaped your subsequent life?


There's not a day goes by that I don't think about it

Ernie Leggett
It shaped my life so much that there's not a day goes by that I don't think about it. Lying in the dunes on that stretcher absolutely naked with just bloody bandages, and the war happening around me it's something which I remember every day of my life, before I go to sleep and when I wake in the morning, it's there, it won't fade whatsoever, I don't know why but it's embedded in the memory and it never goes away.

Ed, UK: What was the mood on the beaches? Did the discipline of the men hold up?

Garrett: We were true Brits. We were scared but we were brave. I don't think anyone could say there weren't worried about it. The stuff that was coming on that beach - it was being bombed all day, it was being shelled all day and fighters were coming in, dive-bombers were coming in and dropping their bombs on top of us. You've seen an ants nest when you put your foot on it - they scarper all over the ground. All the boys were diving this way and that way. It was very frightening. Nobody could say they weren't scared, but being true Brits we kept true to our morals and fighting spirit.

Dennis Foggart, UK: Were you expecting some sort of rescue mission to be mounted in Britain when you were trapped in Dunkirk?


I couldn't bear feeling like a loser

Harry Garrett
Yes we were. I said to my brother, "looks as though we've lost this battle mate, we'll get home and they'll re-equip us and we'll come back again". We intended to get back and were a little bit low in spirit because there's nothing worse than being defeated. I felt very low, and when I first got back to England people would only have to talk to me for a little while and I'd burst into tears because I couldn't bear feeling like a loser. But of course then we became the winners.

I think that if we hadn't of come back to England, had we been captured, we couldn't have stopped Hitler from invading this country. We say we were defeated, but at least we were the saviours of the country. I think a lot of Dunkirk veterans feel the same way.

Dave Gittins, Australia: Was their any resentment among the troops because of a feeling that they had been let down by the British government, which sent them out poorly equipped to fight the Germans, or by the inept French, whose huge army performed badly?

Leggett: Yes there was -we were still playing around with first world war equipment and they put us over there to face a well-equipped enemy, they had automatic rifles and enormous tanks and we were very bitter that we had been sent out with just gut really.

D Durst, USA: When you were being evacuated from Dunkirk, and you were leaving others behind that had protected the perimeter so that you could escape, what were your feelings towards those brave men who stayed behind?

Garrett: It's unfortunate, you've got a job to do. Had I been in there I would have felt just the same. You're told to hold the enemy back. At Brussels we were in the front line and we got pushed back and pushed back. You've got to keep a fighting front on somehow otherwise you'd be overwhelmed. The heart and strength of these soldiers in battle, people don't understand, but it's fantastic, you fight to the last.

J Woodall, UK: How do you think today's young people would cope in the same situation?


I don't think the young people would want to do it today

Ernie Leggett
I don't think they would cope because there's not the discipline today. We were drilled, we were disciplined, it took patience and hard work and I don't think the young people would want to do it today.

Neil Morrison, UK: I know that the RAF were criticised by the troops for not making much of an appearance over the beaches. Did you ever get a chance to air your views to any of the pilots who took part and what was their response?

Leggett: They were criticised and everyone was asking ' where the hell are the RAF?'. I honestly never saw an RAF plane all the time I was out there, the only ones I saw were the Luffwaffe. We all knew later that they were keeping them, back for the Battle of Britain.

Eric D'Entremont, USA: At the time of your rescue from the beaches at Dunkirk, did you believe that a massive German invasion of England was imminent or did you feel secure back at home?

Garrett: No not at all. We knew we had nothing. We lost thousands of guns and trucks and everything there, and then what half a million men. The country would have been devastated, we would have fought down to the last man in England, but we could not have stopped an invasion by the Germans.

Stephen Nixon, Northern Ireland: I take a Bible Classes every Sunday morning and each Remembrance Sunday we attend the Remembrance Service in our town of Dromore, Co Down, N.I.. As someone in his 30's who appreciates your sacrifice during the War Years I would just say thank-you and God Bless you.
Did you pray when you were stranded on the beaches and if so how do you feel those prayers were answered?

Garrett: I think I didn't stop praying. I prayed and prayed and prayed, and being just newly married in two months you think of your wife. We prayed for help and for forgiveness and the fact that we were going to win. I always thank God - I've been through hell and I hope to go to heaven when I die. That's not just me, that's all the veterans.

Anon, UK: Sixty years on, after all that has happened, and all that you've seen, do you think it was worth the huge sacrifice and would you do it again today?

Leggett: I suppose I would have to, but when I look back and think of the comrades I lost, saw them killed and saw them suffer and I don't know if it was worth it.

Search BBC News Online

Advanced search options
Launch console
Internet links:

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites

E-mail this story to a friend

Links to more Forum stories