A Sheppey Man's Experiences of Dunkirk

After reading a small comment in the sheerness Guardian regarding a Sheppey man’s experiences in Dunkirk during WWII I wrote to him and asked if he would mind telling me more about his time there. He replied with a letter giving a more in-depth description. It is a sad and shocking story, one that many men at the time experienced. Please remember that even the survivors deserve remembrance and recognition for their efforts during the war and also for their experiences. The letter is copied below.

"I am not quite sure what you require from me.

So I will tell you about the six days I spent on that beach at Dunkirk. I got there on Sunday the 26th May after a long period of running and fighting through Belgium and France. It was about ten o’clock at night, it was well and truly alight, everything was burning, so we made ourselves as comfy as we could and tried to sleep. On Monday morning we were up, and looking for something to eat and drink, useless.

What food was gone, and the water mains bombed, so no water to drink. During the day the bombers arrives and we got bombed and machine gunned. This went on during daylight hours, so you were glad when darkness fell. The next day we lined up, chest deep in sea water in columns of four, to try to get on any Naval whalers, never moved more than ten feet in a day so, gave that up for a bad job. Roamed along the beach being bombed and machine gunned often. On Wednesday I saw a tug from Sheerness not far out so I stripped off to swim out to her, she was the St Clears skippered by Mr Penny and my cousin Ted Swan was cabin boy, I got as far as the waters edge when she steamed away.

During a lull in the bombing etc. I was talking to a Corporal I knew when the shout went up “Stuka”. Everyone dived for cover, but there was none. I dived to my right and the Corporal dived left. When the planes had gone I got to my feet and said to my mate, Christ that was close. He was still laying there, it was then I saw all the blood and bullet holes in his back. He was stone dead, which just shows you how quick it was to die on that beach.

One thing sticks in my mind was all the bodies along the seashore drifting in and out with the tide. On Friday the 31st I went along to the Mole to try my luck. There were hundreds of troops milling around. A Officer grabbed hold of me and said I want four volunteers to carry this stretcher to the end of the Mole to a hospital ship, put the wounded man aboard and come back.

We carried the man to the end of the Mole, but the hospital ship had gone. While we waited a fleet minesweeper HMS Hebe came along side the Mole so we all got on her. She backed out into open water and we laid off Dunkirk until 4 o’clock. I asked a sailor named Perkins why we were waiting, and he said we were waiting for “Lord Gort” to come aboard, he had been ordered off by the King. Well he came aboard and we sailed for Dover, we arrived about six o’clock."

Designed & built by - Kevin Ali