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Page last updated at 11:14 GMT, Thursday, 6 May 2010 12:14 UK
Storybook contrasts beaches of Dunkirk and Colwyn Bay
A drawing of the Dunkirk evacuation
My Uncle's Dunkirk will be officially launched at the Imperial War Museum, London, during the Dunkirk commemorations on 31 May and 1 June

As the commemorations for the 70th anniversary of the Dunkirk evacuation draw nearer, a children's book has been published which illustrates the experiences of a Colwyn Bay soldier as he waited to be rescued.

My Uncle's Dunkirk was inspired by Gil Kennedy, an unassuming Colwyn Bay telephone engineer who, like many men, kept quiet about wartime service.

But when his nephew, author Mick Manning, came across a bag of his uncle's wartime souvenirs, he felt compelled to find out more.

"When Uncle Gil died, my auntie found old cigarette cards, his army pay book and telegrams," said Mick. "He hadn't told anyone about what he'd done during the war, not even his wife.

A drawing of a beach scene at Colwyn Bay
Mick would stay with his uncle and aunt at Windsor Crescent, Old Colwyn

"I researched his war records and found he'd been one of the last to leave the beaches at Dunkirk. He was there until the last day and so he probably saw far more horrors than those who left earlier."

As few records of individual soldiers' exact movements in the chaos of Dunkirk exist, Mick hasn't been able to discover exactly how his uncle made it home.

"I'd love to know which ship he came back on. It could have been a paddle steamer, a destroyer or one of those lovely little boats which were very brave and came to help."

But Mick does know that Gil's regiment was close to the front lines and, as an engineer, he would have been involved in maintaining communications until the end.

"He was a very reflective soul and I think perhaps he was quite tortured about what he'd seen," Mick thinks. "I don't mean he wasn't a jolly and lively chap, but he kept that part of his life locked away.

Mick Manning and Brita Granstrom
I'm introducing children to the idea of war, but after each page they can return to a more familiar, happy scene
Mick Manning

"So I wanted to make a book about him and his reluctance to talk about what he had been through."

In the absence of anecdotes about his uncle's time in Dunkirk, Mick has decided to draw on those more jolly memories of fun with uncle Gil when putting together his book.

"When I was a boy, we would go to Colwyn Bay every summer to stay with my uncle and auntie, my mum's sister," said Mick. "We would walk with them down from Windsor Crescent to the beach via the Donkey Path and build sand castles. They were happy times.

"So I decided to use the analogy of the beach to tell his story: me playing on the beach in Colwyn Bay as a little boy, and him being on the beach in Dunkirk, and flipping between the two."

As you turn the pages of Mick's book, similar, yet very different beach scenes from the 1940s and 1960s have been drawn.

"There's a picture of a queue for ice cream on Colwyn Bay prom, then you flip the page and there's the same queue, but this time it's soldiers waiting on the beach to be rescued," explained Mick.

"I'm introducing children to the idea of war, but after each page they can return to a more familiar, happy scene.

Steam engines

"I talk about things Uncle Gil would have encountered, but then run a refrain through the book saying he didn't talk about it, which makes it a darker, more reflective tale."

Mick has enjoyed returning to Colwyn Bay to jog his memory of summers on the prom.

"I have those classic childhood memories of every summer being always sunny. One of my earliest memories is standing at my grandparents' gate and looking at the old steam engines chuffing along over the viaduct.

"It was always a big contrast from the industrial West Yorkshire where I'm from. As soon as I was successful enough, I moved to the seaside to Berwick-upon-Tweed, because all those walks by the sea and finding jellyfish had such an effect on me."

With the help of old postcards, Mick has reminded himself how the pier and prom would have looked in the 1960s. He's also consulted experts at the Imperial War Museum to get the details of Dunkirk just right.

"It's been lovely to go back and remember Uncle Gil because he was such a nice chap.

"I haven't told his own story because he didn't share it and that would be impertinent. But I have told the story of Dunkirk, and put him centre stage."

My Uncle's Dunkirk is published by Franklin Watts at £10.99.




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