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Tuesday, 30 May, 2000, 07:53 GMT 08:53 UK
Stories from the beaches
On 4 June 2000, the Dunkirk Veterans' Association will congregate for the last time on the beaches of Dunkirk. Five veterans tell BBC News Online about their experiences in 1940.

Eric Pemberton, 82, was in the Royal Army Service Corps during World War II. He spent four long days on the beach at Dunkirk, but says he was one of the lucky ones.

E Pemberton: "Everybody helped everybody"
You didn't know what was going on around you.

The Germans had got within shelling range, so we used to get in the dunes when we could, but we were helpless there too really. We just had to take it as it came.

Being a young man, these sort of things don't worry you, but if it happened now I'd be scared stiff.

On the beaches there was no panic, we all took our turn

Eric Pemberton
They keep referring to the 'Dunkirk spirit' - everybody helped everybody. On the beaches there was no panic. We all took our turn when we waded out at night.

I was lifted out of the water by the Ramsgate lifeboat crew who put me onto a rowing boat. It took us out to a lifeboat and from there they rowed us out to a Dutch coal boat and that took us to Ramsgate.

They took my rifle off me and I had my first cup of tea for four days and my first sandwich for four days - so I thought I was a lucky lad.

Ivan Daunt, 81, was in the Queen's Own Royal West Kents. He fought in France and Belgium before retreating and says Dunkirk definitely felt like a defeat.

Ivan Daunt: "We thought we were going to starve"
We were lost for words. I don't know how to put it. We were just so demoralised and humiliated.

I could not believe how well-equipped the Germans were. I had just a few months with a rifle and no proper field training and there they were with all this equipment and organisation.

They were prepared for war and we weren't.

We were just so demoralised and humiliated

Ivan Daunt
The beaches were full of troops. We couldn't move, we just had to dig in and wait. We had no idea what was happening. There was no food and we thought we were going to starve.

Sergeant Harry Garrett, was a 22-year-old anti-tank gunner with the Royal Artillery. He was with his brother throughout the war and recalls how the pair kept their spirits up on the Dunkirk beach.

Harry Garrett: "There were blokes lying all over"
Eventually we got down to the beach at Dunkirk and there were blokes lying all over who'd been killed.

You were such an easy target. There was such a concentration of fire by the enemy and we were so tightly packed that they couldn't really miss.

You were such an easy target...they couldn't really miss

Harry Garrett
We built a trench, but with no ships to take us off we stayed there for three days, while they were bombing and shelling.

Then in desperation - we'd had nothing to eat or drink for days - I left the trench and found a wooden warehouse up on the hill.

I smashed open the door with my rifle and found an Aladdin's cave - there were hundreds of bottles of Jamaica rum and carnation milk.

We got the mess tins out and mixed them together and, I'm not kidding, we were the three bravest men on that beach that day!

Later on, we saw the Destroyer Wolsey come in at the mole [landing area] and we ran like blazes and got on.

There were about 300-400 of us packed on like sardines and it only seemed like an hour and we were in Dover, but we were being bombed and shelled all the way. It was a nightmare, it really was.

Stanley Allen was a 20-year old seaman on HMS Windsor at the time of Dunkirk. He made five trips ferrying soldiers away from Dunkirk and remembers the mood well.

Stanley Allen: "You were too busy to be frightened"
We went out on 26 May and were immediately taking soldiers off the small ships under constant fire.

We would take on around 800-900 soldiers at a time and it was so tightly packed there was no room to move.

They were tired and very, very thirsty, but they hadn't lost their spirit. On the contrary, some of them wondered why they were being taken off.

The Stukas had sirens on their wings to frighten people, but you were too busy to be frightened at the time. It was after it was all over you started shaking.

George Fisher, now 80, fought in Belgium with the Royal Artillery and spent his 20th birthday on beach at Dunkirk. The long march to beach is what sticks in his mind.

George Fisher: "I was like a jack rabbit onto that boat"
We couldn't stop for wounded, just had to keep going when friends were calling for help, it was like walking through fire.

We'd been marching 40 miles a day and it seemed like it was all cobblestones. You ought to have seen some of them feet.

I spent my 20th birthday on the beach at Dunkirk. The state it was in you wouldn't have known where it was.

We were so tired, all we wanted to do was sleep. We'd been up on the front line for seven days, with no sleep and no food. When the boats came, I was like a jack rabbit onto that boat.

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29 May 00 | UK
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