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24 September 2014
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William Tennant - alias Dunkirk Joe
Still from the series Dunkirk
Stills from the series Dunkirk
As the BBC launches a major new series on the Dunkirk evacuation in WW2 we look at one of the heroes of the operation - William Tennant.

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William Tennant was born in 1890, the son of a family from Upton-upon-Severn

As well as being in charge of the evacuation of the beaches at Dunkirk he also had a key role in the D-Day landings - running the huge artificial Mulberry harbours

After retirement he became Lord Lieutenant of Worcestershire

He died in 1963, and his statue is next to the famous Pepperpot in Upton-upon-Severn

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Admiral William Tennant was a son of Upton and a professional sailor, with a long and very distinguished career in the Royal Navy.

The nickname he was given by ordinary sailors - Dunkirk Joe - indicates the key role he played in the evacuation of the British army in the dark days of 1940.

Still from the BBC series Dunkirk
Still from the BBC series Dunkirk

Many say that with out his cool head and organisational skills Operation Dynamo - as the evacuation was known - would not have been the success it was.

In 1940 William Tennant was a Captain, and arrived on the beaches of Dunkirk aboard the destroyer HMS Wolfhound.

His job was to act as "Beachmaster", which in reality meant organising more than 300,000 tired and dispirited troops, and getting them aboard the famous armada of small boats that had sailed for England to rescue them.

He arrived at Dunkirk on May the 26th and stayed there until June the 2nd, during which time 378,829 troops, including 120,000 French soldiers, had been rescued.

Even then Bill Tennant stayed almost to the end, patrolling the length of the beach calling through a megaphone "Are there any British soldiers still ashore?"

Still from the BBC series Dunkirk
Still from the BBC series Dunkirk

The evacuation from Dunkirk remains one of the greatest "victory from the jaws of defeat" stories, and what the BBC series calls "the greatest rescue operation of all time."

Bill Tennant had a very eventful war even after the Dunkirk evacuation.

He was the captain of HMS Repulse, which was sunk by the Japanese in 1942.

He also had a key role in the D-day landings in 1944.

He was put in charge of the massive artificial Mulberry harbours that were towed to the Normandy beeches, and which enabled the allies to supply their troops fighting to break out of the beachhead.

He was knighted in 1945 and after retirement came back to live in the family home at Upton-upon-Severn.

He became Lord Lieutenant of the county in 1950 and was given the freedom of the city of Worcester in 1960, three years before his death.

A memorial bust can be seen bear the famous Pepperpot in the town of his birth.

Find a fantastic archive of WW2 memories, and add your own at the BBC's People War.

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