Dunkirk commemorations: Veterans remember WW2 rescue

Dunkirk veterans (left) Michael Bentall, aged 94, and Garth Wright, aged 95, listen to a service Image copyright PA

A service has been held in Dunkirk to mark the rescue of thousands of allied troops during World War Two.

Seven veterans of Operation Dynamo - which was the codename for the mass evacuation - gathered at the Allied Beach Memorial to pay their respects.

Arthur Taylor, 94, described feeling "enormous tears" as he laid a wreath, flanked by his military grandsons.

The ceremony is part of a series of events in the French port town to mark the 75th anniversary of the mission.

Dunkirk evacuation

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  • On 20 May 1940, Nazi German troops reached the English Channel at Abbeville in northern France cutting off the British army
  • About 340,000 men, including 121,000 French and Belgian soldiers, retreated to the beaches of Dunkirk
  • Between 26 May and 4 June a ragtag British fleet, ranging from battleships to pleasure boats, braved the sea to rescue the stranded soldiers
  • The incredible courage shown by British civilians became known as the "Dunkirk spirit"

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'Enormous tears'

Operation Dynamo saw hundreds of boats of all types rescue 338,000 troops from France after they had retreated from Nazi forces, and it is regarded by historians as one of the pivotal moments of the war.

The rescue, which took place between 26 May and 4 June 1940, was considered a success, but there were also about 90,000 left dead, wounded or taken prisoner.

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The returning veterans, all in their 90s, were accompanied by proud family members, standard bearers from British, French and Belgian veterans' association and serving personnel from the Royal Navy and the French army and navy.

Under grey skies, a crowd of onlookers gathered around the memorial square to watch the service.

The veterans, wrapped up against the cold, listened to music by the French army, followed by schoolchildren reading a newspaper article about the evacuation just days after it happened.

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Image caption Arthur Taylor felt tearful after laying his wreath with his grandsons on either side
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Image caption A commemorative plaque given to veterans by the town of Dunkirk

Wreaths were then laid at the foot of the memorial wall by French and British dignitaries, including Prince Michael of Kent, the honorary admiral of the Association of Dunkirk Little Ships.

Spontaneous applause broke out as Mr Taylor laid his own wreath for the Bournemouth branch of the Dunkirk Veterans' Association, with his grandsons - Royal Marines Major Stuart Taylor, 41, and Warrant Officer Second Class Ian Taylor, 39, of the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers - by his side.

After the service, Mr Taylor said: "I appreciated them all clapping. I didn't expect it."

Asked how he felt, he said: "Enormous tears."

His grandson, Maj Taylor, said it was a "real honour" to be there and a "very proud moment".

As God Save the Queen rang out, the veterans able to stand made a salute, before making the short journey to the beach.

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Image caption After the service, veteran Garth Wright, 95, sat on a World War Two 1940 500cc Norton motorbike

Commemorations began on Thursday, when about 50 "little ships" involved in the rescue sailed to Dunkirk from Kent.

On Friday a handful of veterans gathered at the British Memorial at the Dunkirk Military Cemetery for another service of remembrance.

Leading that service, Royal Navy chaplain Gordon Warren said: "Whilst we thank God this weekend for those wartime miracles during the evacuation, let us never forget the precious souls who are commemorated here and who never came back. We will remember them."

On Sunday a memorial plaque will be unveiled at the site of the MV Crested Eagle, a paddle steamer which was sunk with 300 soldiers on board.

There will also be a commemorative service for the Association of Dunkirk Little Ships (ADLS) on the quayside in Dunkirk.

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