They eventually made it to the outskirts of Dunkirk, and were stopped near a large canal bridge by a few French or Belgian men dressed in military uniform. The bridge had been rigged by British forces for demolition. The men in uniform would not let the British troops through, threatening to shoot them if they attempted, calling them cowards and yellow bellies.
Some were suspicious that these French and Belgian uniformed men might be the much talked about German infiltrators or 5th columnists.
They eventually found a way past the men on the bridge and this allowed Len and hundreds of British troops to get across the canal. On the ‘British’ side of the bridge was Lens future father in law, a Mr Roberts.
They crossed the bridge whilst under enemy fire and reached Dunkirk’s sands and dunes.
The Germans used Stuka dive bombers in groups of three to strafe and bomb the beaches. When the German aircraft came over, they would sometimes drop leaflets instead of bombs in an attempt to make the allies give up and surrender.
Len and his unit moved to the old hotels along the sea front and went down into the cellars. In hindsight he believes this was a silly idea, since many of the hotels were targets for bombers. However they did manage to find many bottles of Cognac, which they drank in the cellars.
Eventually they were told to get back to the beaches because ships were coming to take them away, however as well as the bombers they had to deal with accurate German mortar fire. Len went out into the water 2 or 3 times, but by the time he reached a ship it was full up and refused to take more troops. They were surviving on simple army rations that included solid chocolate and the occasional tin of bully beef. They were very tired and dumped their equipment so that it didn’t drag them under the water.
The journey home
At the beginning of June they were told that there was one more day to go and a few more ships were going to try and get in to pick them up. By this time Len had given up hope of being saved. However some of his mates picked him up and told him to keep going. Len waded out to sea again, leaving his rifle behind. He went under the water 2 or 3 times and the last thing he remembers was that he was pulled out of the sea, up the side of a ship by a sailor. He had been pulled aboard HMS Wolsey and rested on the upper deck.
Dunkirk actually fell on the 4th June; it is likely that Len was evacuated on the 1st or 2nd June.
Hundreds of others were saved and Stukas continued to attempt to bomb them on the ship. Fortunately all the bombs missed and eventually the ship made it back to Dover. The Woman’s Voluntary Service (WVS) fed them soup and tea. He was very tired and wasn’t aware of what was going on around him. He was put on a train at Dover, although he doesn’t know how, he was suffering from exposure and at the time felt as if he were dead.
There were a lot of French and Belgians on the train, they had also made it across the channel. Len was told that he was one of the last men to leave Dunkirk, but more boats did manage to rescue men from the beaches. They had no idea where they were going. Dry cloths were put on the train and he changed out of the wet clothes he had worn since being rescued from the beaches.
They eventually arrived at Blandford Camp, Dorset, where a new Auxiliary Territorial Service (ATS) camp was under construction. He remained there for three days where he returned to health and was given a train pass home. He got the train from Blandford, via Dorchester to Cosham, the journey home to Waterlooville took two days. He had 48 hours leave and spent the time with his parents, after the 48 hours he had to report back to Blandford. On return they were allocated to new regiments, put on a train and arrived at Maiden Newton. From there they were moved North West to Cattistock.