Ceremony marks 70th anniversary of Dunkirk evacuation

Veteran Ken Blake: "I found a wounded lad... he was calling for his mum"

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A ceremony has taken place in Dunkirk to mark the 70th anniversary of the evacuation of Allied troops from there.

About 50 veterans attended the Allied Memorial on the seafront, with 50 of the original "little ships" off-shore.

A bike ride from Portsmouth for forces charity Help for Heroes ended in the town, where wreaths were laid.

More than 300,000 Allied troops were rescued from the port in northern France in the mass evacuation in 1940.

Veteran Ken Blake, attending the ceremony in the seaside town, fought back the tears as he recalled colleagues who did not make it back home.

Driven back

He told the BBC: "I came across a young lad, he was bad. I couldn't help him, I couldn't do nothing for him.

"He was only a young lad sort of thing, and he was badly wounded, very badly wounded, and he was calling out ...he was calling out for his mum and I couldn't do nothing.

"I couldn't do nothing for him, I left him there. How many other lads were on those beaches there just like that, calling out for their mums?"

The ceremony was also attended by children, many of whom sought autographs from the veterans, as well as the crews of Navy vessels.

Start Quote

I'm immensely proud of the decision that my grandfather made which was to withdraw from Dunkirk at the critical time”

End Quote Philip De Lisle

Meanwhile, the 43rd French Infantry Regiment and the 110th French Infantry Regiment paraded in the town centre.

As British and French national anthems were played on the beach, a crane ship lifted from the seabed the anchor of one of the ships that sank during the evacuation.

The anchor is due to be returned to the Isle of Man where it will be fashioned into a commemorative monument.

The wreckage of other ships lost in the evacuation can still be seen on the seabed at low-tide.

Churchill pressure

Among those paying tribute was David Ramsay, the son of Sir Bertram Ramsay - who co-ordinated the operation from Dover castle in Kent.

He said his father pushed everyone involved to give their all.

"These people were running well beyond what you would normally do," he said.

"They were almost exhausted, they were working round the clock and he made them go back on the final night of the operation because there were so many French left behind."

During the ceremony a French schoolgirl read a poignant reflection on events

The man who made the decision to evacuate at the time was British General John Gort, despite pressure to carry on fighting by Winston Churchill.

General Gort's grandson Philip De Lisle has made his first trip to Dunkirk.

He told BBC News: "I've always wanted to come in a little ship to Dunkirk, so now that I'm an old age pensioner, finally I've managed to achieve it.

"I'm immensely proud of the decision that my grandfather made which was to withdraw from Dunkirk at the critical time.

"He made the solitary decision himself to withdraw from Dunkirk and he created a corridor and created extra forces so that the Germans couldn't hit his flanks as he withdrew down the corridor.

"Sadly that meant some soldiers were left behind and were taken prisoner for the remainder of the war, and he always felt incredibly bad about that."

Earlier this week, a fleet of about 64 "little ships" commemorated the anniversary of Operation Dynamo by sailing from Ramsgate in Kent to Dunkirk.

Altogether, about 338,000 troops were evacuated from Dunkirk's beaches between 26 May and 4 June, 1940.

The troops, who included French, Canadian and Belgian soldiers as well as British service personnel, were rescued after they had been driven back to the coast of northern France by the German army.

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