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- Joseph Purves Fox-Written by Derek Fox
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- 19 November 2005
This is a war story told to four children, repeated on numerous occasions on request and often with the use of a small box of matches. My Father expressed the story with sincerity; wit and the need to answer questions put to him frequently by his young family. This is how myself in particular remember his reminiscences. Gathered round a small table, matches spread out on it, he told of his first encounter with Hitler’s army. Taking refuge in a wooded area in France he and a few fellow soldiers were suddenly informed that Wermacht soldiers were converging quickly on their position. Using the aforementioned matches, our dad created the scene that unfolded in front of our eyes. French resistance fighters suddenly arrived without notice and helped him and his pals to a woodsman’s small-secluded hut. German soldiers were spread throughout the woods searching for them, if they were found, execution was their fate. Extraordinarily this didn’t happen. The French resistance had furtively led their enemy away from the hut. Those brave and resolute men also knew the British soldiers had not eaten for far too long and they supplied them with a basket of raw eggs. When the wood was clear my dad and his mates were able to get clear of the area and head for their destination - Dunkirk!
Once again the matches were spread and attentive children listened to their dad tell his story of fear, pain and friendship. Gathered in small groups, they were commanded to get themselves to the Port of Dunkirk, there they were assured would be ships to take them back home to Britain. Dad set up the matches to show how on their trip to Dunkirk they rested up in their small group and tried to relax for a short period. He arranged the matches to indicate they were positioned on a road, little more than a track in reality, with two embankments on either side. They lay on these throwing cigarettes to each other and telling jokes. Dad said they all felt safe at that moment, they were heading home for a much-needed break. Without warning the whole area shook with huge explosions, the Germans were trying to cut off their route to Dunkirk. Chaos ensured there was no co-ordinated plan, so dad and his friends did what they had to — they ran. Firing ripped over their heads as they fled in all directions. A few hundred yards ahead of them they saw what seemed a dip in the landscape, safety, if they could reach it! Men fell on both sides of my dad as they lost their race with speeding bullets. He raced on, spurred by friends who had already managed to get themselves down the dip in the hillside ahead. He reached it, and thought he was safe. The bullet entered his left foot at the rear and sent him tumbling, his momentum and weight carrying him over the edge. When dad regained consciousness his world around him had changed, instead of rain, cold and starvation, he now was lying in a bed with covers and pillows. He saw hanging on the room’s wall a crucifix and on the side table lay a bible, next to it sat a jug of water. Although still in pain, he felt more comfortable than he had done for many months. When the door opened, his reaction was one of shock, a nun carrying towels smiled at him and in broken English asked if he felt a little better.
He nodded he was, not knowing where he might be, or if he could be a prisoner. Dad recalled to us, that at this point he remembered the searing pain, just before he tumbled over the edge and then felt nothing, now he was it being cared for by a nun; he found it very surreal. A nunnery had been situated within a mile of the position from where they were attacked and dad’s friends had carried him and others to what they thought was just a large house. From that point the nuns had taken over, sheltering them, attending their wounds and keeping them hidden from the searching German soldiers. The kindness and generosity shown to him astounded my father and others during his short stay there. Given solace by a brave group of women, who could easily have been shot for helping them, they instead chose to help strangers. My dad never forgot those self-sacrificing nuns. When he was fit enough to travel, dad was given food and a little money and reluctantly he left the place of refuge to continue on his way to Dunkirk. He, as he repeated often was one of the lucky soldiers from many nationalities who safely returned from France, he didn’t wait long for a ship and he soon set foot at Dover. His injuries were too severe however and after several months of attempting to recuperate, he was finally told that his army day’s were over. Given an honourable discharge, my dad continued to support Britain’s war effort and he worked as a blacksmith and welder until the end of the war.
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