Veteran recalls fear of Dunkirk at film premiere
A BIRMINGHAM war veteran has recalled the fear he felt on the beaches of Dunkirk as he was invited to the world premiere of the new blockbuster film.
Les Gray, 98, of Anchor’s Maple Dene care home in St Agnes Road, Moseley, was among several former soldiers who met the Prince at the premiere of Dunkirk in London.
Mr Gray, who was a corporal with the Royal Engineers and the 4th Royal Infantry, said the film was a realistic reflection of the horrors of the desperate battle to evacuate hundreds of thousands of British soldiers from the beach of Dunkirk in May 1940.
Mr Gray, who attended the premiere with his partner, Peggy, and family, will also be guest of honour at a special viewing of the film at the Odeon in Birmingham city centre.
Though Mr Gray’s recollection of those terrible days of retreat in northern France are fading, the feeling of living fear has not.
Mr Gray, who proudly wore his medals – including the one denoting his action at Dunkirk – said: “All I kept thinking about was how was I going to get out of this terrible situation. “I was so scared. “We were all so relieved to see the ships sent to rescue us. I remember that there were boats similar to trucks that had platforms on either side of them.
“You were only allowed on board if you brought two injured men with you.
“I managed to carry two injured soldiers onto the vessel and then we had to row the boat back to the ships waiting about a mile out to see. We were picked up by HMS Salamander.”
He added: “I enjoyed the premiere.
“The film was very realistic. Prince Harry is a nice young man. It’s the first time I’ve met a member of the royal family.”
Mr Gray, who later saw action in Italy and Belgium, was among the 338,226 soldiers rescued from Dunkirk by 800 boats.
He married his childhood sweetheart, Betty, in 1941.
IT was a final journey fitting for a hero. Tony Martin, one of the dwindling band of D-Day veterans, fought for our freedom.
And on Monday the ex-service stalwart was laid to rest at Yardley Crematorium.
The funeral procession was led by a lone piper as mourners paid their respects.
Mr Martin, 99, had lived at Edgbaston’s extra care retirement village with his partner Beryl until his death on July 9. It was just seven months before his 100th birthday.
He joined the army at the start of the Second World War in 1939 and landed on Juno Beach on June 6, 1944. A corporal with the 23rd Advanced Airfield Construction Group, he was tasked with building a crash strip for damaged aircraft.
He then fought across Belgium and Holland, and later India before becoming a physical training instructor and military police officer at the rank of sergeant.
Two years ago he described the landings as “like a living nightmare”.
“I remember the feeling of fear as we packed into the ship on our way to Normandy,” he said.
“I will never forget the noise and the smell, the horrible smell. It was burned explosives, burned bodies, all sorts of things. There was the noise of the aircraft, explosives, rifle rounds, shells bursting. There wasn’t just one shell going overhead, there were hundreds. The guns deadened my senses and I got to the stage where I really didn’t care; I just wished it was all over. My friend was killed. I had several near-misses – but you never hear the one that hits you.”
Mr Martin joined the Normandy Veterans Associations and travelled to Normandy with the group every year until he was 98.
Speaking about one of the visits, he said: “I walked up the cobbled street to the cemetery. Everybody was clapping and cheering. I felt really proud because they made such a fuss of us.
“They call us heroes. I say we weren’t heroes. We were sent over, and we had no option.”
Mr Martin was President of the Normandy Veterans Associations and a member of the Military Police Association. He was also a standard bearer for the Royal British Legion and vice-chairman of the Market Garden Commemorative Association.
Mr Martin was also awarded France’s highest military honour, the Chevalier de la Legion d’Honneur.
> Les Gray, who was at the Dunkirk evacuation
> Veterans and a lone piper paid tribute to D-Day hero Tony Martin, right, at his funeral this week