Welcome to my blog, where I take pleasure in words and pictures, be they my own or those of others. I'm a creative individual, and the crafty side I explore on my 'other blog', Picking Up The Threads, which I hope you'll visit too. I'm sure you understand that I have sole copyright of my original work and any of my contributions, so please ask if you want to use them. A polite request is rarely refused. So, as they used to say on the BBC's 'Listen With Mother' radio programme, many years ago: "Are you sitting comfortably? Then we'll begin."

Wednesday, 27 May 2015

A Tale of Survival

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

18 comments:

  1. Somewhere I have several Gold Flake tins, with goodness knows what in them. Not cigarettes, because my Dad smoked the filterless Gold Leaf, and I can't find any images online of the green and gold box that they came in.

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  2. The video gave a good account of how the evacuation was done - I'm glad you included it. If he was one of those poor fellows wading out in the water & swimming to a boat I can barely imagine how nervous he must have been. And how marvelous he kept that lucky pack of cigarettes all those years.

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  3. I enjoyed watching the video. We don't hear much about Dunkirk in the U. S. I recently bought an August 1942 issue of National Geographic that has a big article about the British war effort called "Blood, Toil, Tears, and Sweat." The title comes from a famous speech by Winston Churchill.

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  4. Nice homage to a man that experienced a tragic moment in his life.

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  5. And Hitler thought they wouldn't come back, luckily these brave men proved him wrong!

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  6. Wonderful story about Joe. He looked like he was no more than a boy in that first picture of him --- and it was so nice to see the handsome photo of him in later years. Also the video was great.

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  7. A poignant tale, and it reminded me of my uncle Harry, who too was at Dunkirk, arriving home in Lancashire in the uniform in which he had entered the water to climb aboard a ship. He too would never talk about the experience but could get quite emotional seeing anything on TV about it. It left a lasting mark on him. He later served in North Africa and Italy.

    Susan at Family History Fun

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  8. Those cigarettes are a rare find, nice to know you still have them. Your story about Joe is wonderful, it's great to hear stories like this from the World War II, of how brave they have been and how they beat the odds. Your story reminded me of my uncle who joined in the war during the Japanese Occupation here in the Philippines. He served as a guerrila and fought alongside the Allies too.

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  9. What an amazing story about dear Joe, and such a fine tribute from you to share his story with us.

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  10. Hmmm ...that's the second time this month that I've heard the phrase Territorial Army which I don't think I've heard before. Isn't that weird? I wonder why it was called The Territorial Army. I must look that up. A great story Little Nell. Thank you for sharing.

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  11. Amazing that the cigarettes lasted so long. I'm motivated by Joe's story to read about Dunkirk.

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  12. So good to have a reminder of lives being saved, and so many of them!

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  13. Horrifying. No wonder soldiers often don't talk about their war experiences.

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  14. A nice tribute. i imagine his war experience had an influence on his health, as he didn't live enjoy old age. I was linitially looking for cigarettes in the prompt photograph, but no.

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  15. Every Joe in this world is a hero . It is unimaginable what they went through.

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  16. Silence about one's war experience seems to be a universal trait. I do wonder about saving the cigarettes since he certainly had other things with him if only his uniform. My husband's grandfather saved his WWI helmet with its dent from a bullet - I think I would have saved that too.

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  17. A really nice piece. I at first just looked at the marvelous text design on the package, but then your story added so much. A special keepsake.

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  18. How very moving.....my father had a (pulled aboard) Dunkirk experience, too........and those cigarettes....amazing!

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