Veterans remember lost comrades

AS YOUNG soldiers, Ted Vickery and Bernard Sharp each celebrated their 21st birthdays on the hellish beach of Dunkirk.Now they are preparing to remember their comrades who never made it home as the Little Ships prepare for a return visit to Ipswich at the weekend.

AS YOUNG soldiers, Ted Vickery and Bernard Sharp each celebrated their 21st birthdays on the hellish beach of Dunkirk.

Now they are preparing to remember their comrades who never made it home as the Little Ships prepare for a return visit to Ipswich at the weekend.

The Dunkirk evacuation saw what was left of the British army taken off mainland Europe after a heroic action involving hundreds of naval and civilian ships.

Although the retreat from mainland Europe was militarily a disaster, it was seen as a logistical and morale-boosting success because most of the troops were safely taken away.

However the evacuation itself took about ten days - which left thousands of troops exposed on the beach waiting to be picked up.

Mr Vickery, who now lives at Henley, was in the Royal Corps of Signals and based at Arras in northern France which now has strong links with Ipswich.

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He said: “My comrade and I were the last to leave the headquarters in an armoured vehicle but after six or seven kilometres we had to leave that. We disabled it and made it the rest of the way on foot.

“It was about 30 miles and then we got to the beach where there were already thousands of people waiting.

“We got there the day before my birthday - May 22 - and had a bit of good luck. We chanced upon an army postman and he had a package for me from home, a huge block of Cadbury's chocolate from my mother.

“I had a chunk every day, two on my birthday, and it was all I had to eat on the beach. I didn't get taken off until May 30.”

He remembered being attacked by German planes.

“We wondered why the RAF didn't give us a bit more cover at the time. There was one occasion when a damaged German bomber was chased by a Spitfire. We all cheered when the bomber came down,” he said.

Mr Sharp, who now lives in Chelsworth Avenue, arrived at Dunkirk by train from near Le Havre where he had been serving with the Royal Engineers.

“We travelled in cattle trucks and it took several days. I arrived there just before my birthday which is on May 31. I don't remember anything about being taken off the beach. I just know I arrived in Plymouth at the beginning of June,” he said.

Although they are both from Ipswich, neither man knew of the other until many years later, and it was only recently that they realised they had both come of age on the beach at Dunkirk.

“We found some wine outside a café and celebrated with a bottle,” Mr Sharp remembered. “You were lucky,” said Mr Vickery, “I had to make do with an extra lump of chocolate!”

They are now both stalwarts of the Royal British Legion and will be joining their comrades to mark the arrival of the small ships this weekend.

Mr Sharp said: “It's very important we remember what happened there. As Churchill said, this was not a great victory, but the manner of the evacuation made it very important for the morale of the people back home in Britain.

“It was the beginning of the turning of the tide - and we must not forget what happened there.”

Dunkirk evacuation facts:

It was codenamed Operation Dynamo.

It lasted from 26 May until 4 June.

900 ships rescued 340,000 soldiers from the beaches.

A further 230,000 troops were rescued from other French ports.

Germans took a further million troops prisoner - mainly French soldiers.

After Dunkirk, Churchill made one of his most famous speeches: “We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills. We shall never surrender.”>

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