This may look like a just a very old packet of cigarettes, but it is the subject of this week’s Sepia Saturday post. Yes, the cigarettes are still with us, but their owner sadly died some years ago.
This is my sister-in-law’s father, Joe, and seventy-five years ago this month, he took part in an historic event, The Dunkirk Evacuation, also known as Operation Dynamo. It was the evacuation of around 40,000 Allied soldiers from the beaches and harbour of Dunkirk, France, between 27 May and 4 June 1940. You can read about this in countless books and on the web, and this week’s commemorative events, but Joe’s story has never been written before, so it is my honour to do so now.
Joe signed up for four years military service with the Territorial Army on 1 May 1939 at Harborne, Birmingham, England, and on 1 September he was called up as a Driver in the Royal Army Service Corps (RASC). He was posted with the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) as an ambulance driver and landed in France on 9 January 1940. It was from there that he was to swim for his life during the Dunkirk Evacuation. Joe survived, though many didn’t, but we don’t know any more details of his rescue; perhaps it was on board one of the fifty or so ‘Little Ships’ which came to the rescue of the stranded allies. He was a very quiet man and didn’t talk much about his wartime exploits. What we do know is that the packet of cigarettes Joe was carrying at the time, also survived and that he kept them as a constant reminder of how close he came to losing his young life that day.
|Joe, bottom right.|
After Dunkirk Joe spent two and a half years stationed at various medical reception centres in Lincolnshire.
In January 1943 he was posted to PAIForce (Persian and Iran Expeditionary Force) where he drove petrol tankers. He remained in the Middle East with spells in Egypt, Palestine and Syria, until he returned to UK in March 1946.
It was exactly seventy-five years ago today that a message was sent to Lord Gort, the Commander of the BEF, to evacuate the maximum Force possible. This British Pathe News clip gives a flavour of the event; who knows? perhaps Joe is one of the soldiers in the water, or one of those later being hauled aboard ship.
|Joe, Veteran of Dunkirk, 1921 - 1983|