Vet­eran re­calls fear of Dunkirk at film pre­miere

Birmingham Post - - NEWS - Cath­rina Hulse Staff Re­porter

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

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