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- Mike Coyle
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- 26 August 2005
Getting back from Dunkirk June 2nd 1940
On the morning of June 2nd 1940 we, the 1/6th East Surreys, along with other units, were evacuated from the beaches of Dunkirk by the Destroyer ‘Whitshed’ and a pleasure steamer. We had been waiting on the beaches for a long time hoping against hope, watching men swim out and seeing little ships being bombed and sunk together with the men who had managed to get on board.
Eventually the order came to make our way onto the mole in the dark. It seemed that our chance had come and with our spirits somewhat lifted we made our way quickly towards the waiting ships. I was in the group which reached the Destroyer and we had to jump down onto the swaying deck. As we landed we were grabbed by friendly sailors and pushed out of the way of the person who was following close behind. There was a feeling of urgency everywhere.
Eventually every nook and cranny of the deck was filled with bodies, I found myself curled up on a pile of ropes and I remember feeling a sense of relief at last, a feeling of being safe. I think we all felt the same especially as we had been told by one of the sailors that this was the last ship out, he said it was now or never. This made me realise just how lucky we were.
A couple of incidents on the way back to Dover come to mind. The first incident which I recall was extraordinary in a way and had a far reaching effect. We were ordered by a sailor, with apparent authority, to throw all heavy objects overboard, this included our rifles, bren guns, bayonets and ammunition also any heavy object acquired as souvenirs. My Belgian army bayonet, of which I was very fond, had to go. We naturally queried the order before complying but the sailor insisted and for the second time in my short career as a soldier, I found myself without a rifle. Apparently the ship was overloaded and small wonder; later estimates put the number of men on board as high as one thousand.
The second incident was when a young sailor handed me a water bottle and said “have a swig of this mate, it will do you good”. Thinking it was water a rare commodity then, I took a good mouthful, it was only when I got my breath back that I realised that it was rum. The sailor grinned and I fell asleep shortly afterwards.
Despite the numerous mishaps I managed to bring back two small souvenirs, one is a fairly large Rosary which I still have, the other was a small pair of hair clippers, and these provide the basis for another story elsewhere.
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