Personal account of Lance-Corporal Jack Flanagan, 6th Battalion, The Gordon Highlanders, 51st Highland Division

Personal account of Lance-Corporal Jack Flanagan, 6th Battalion, The Gordon Highlanders, 51st Highland Division

During the retreat from Belgium our brigade formed a 'C' Echelon, helping to salvage vehicles and equipment at the port of Dunkirk or elsewhere along the coast. I was a driver on one of those vehicles.

On the Monday, some miles from Dunkirk, we were stopped and ordered to destroy our trucks and proceed on foot. Consequently some twenty of us, lost touch with the Battalion. We arrived at the coast at Bray Dunes and I remember a sort of band stand there.

Some groups were already formed or forming for embarkation. After several attempts to "hitch on" to any of these groups and always rejected, we became what was classified as "waifs and strays".

Later in the week, possibly the Wednesday or the Thursday, we were approached by a Major in the RAMC who took us under his command. In a short time he got us an embarkation number from some establishment further along the beach.

Late Friday night, early hours of Saturday morning, after many hours of shuffling along we found ourselves at the end of Dunkirk pier, and now experiencing shell fire. It was at this point "our Major", as we termed him, looked back towards Bray Dunes, where the rearguard were now engaged, wished us all "good luck" and said words like, "you should be all right, I will have to return as the lads back there will be more in need of my help." This was a man; only a matter of yards from a destroyer that was to take us back to Dover, but saw fit to return and provide "help to the lads" as he phrased it.

I never knew his name, but for me he was truly the greatest man I ever had the honour to encounter, a man I shall not forget till the day I die. Nor will at least twenty others who shared that honour with me.

We disembarked at Dover on Saturday morning, entrained for Bristol, encamped in a complex that should have housed the British Empire Exhibition of 1939-40, or something like that.

My wife and I returned to Dunkirk some five to six years ago (1969-70). The peace on the beach that Sunday did seem to shadow that terrible nightmare.


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