In wake of the blockbuster movie about the evacuation of allied troops from France in 1940 a Fleetwood man whose brave uncle played a part in the rescue tells his story. WES HOLMES reports
A former Fleetwood man has paid homage to the incredible bravery of fishermen from the town who contributed to the famous rescue missions of Dunkirk.
And George Elliott, who now lives in Great Eccleston, has a personal connection to the historic event – his uncle Joe Bird was one the many Fleetwood fishermen involved.
Joe, a crewman in Fleetwood’s fishing fleet, was among the hundreds of ordinary people who risked their lives during the 1940 mass evacuation of 338,226 allied soldiers from the beaches of Dunkirk.
Hundreds of merchant marine boats, pleasure crafts, yachts, and lifeboats manned by everyday people made the journey across the English Channel between May 26 and June 4 1940, facing mortal danger to rescue soldiers who had become surrounded by German troops.
The desperate mission, which managed to create a propaganda triumph out of a military disaster, is back in the public eye thanks to the blockbuster movie Dunkirk, recently released in cinemas (pictured).
George, 84, a former auctioneer on Fleetwood’s fish market, said: “I’m so proud of those men from Fleetwood who put their lives on the line.
“My uncle Joe came home and I remember we couldn’t bang a door for weeks on end. It drove him crackers. He was very upset about it.”
The S.T. Gava FD380, the Dhoon FD438, the Edwina FD205, the Evelyn Rose GY9, the Jacinta FD235 and the Velia FD49, all manned by Fleetwood fishermen, between them transported thousands of allied soldiers back to blighty, with three heroic crewmen - A. Munn, H. Gawne and J. Jones – diving overboard to rescue three wounded French sailors.
One skipper, Arthur Lewis of the Evelyn Rose, transported 719 soldiers in his trawler alone, in two perilous trips. Great-grandad of two George said: “Uncle Joe told me about it only once, and it’s something I have never forgotten. It was on the Fleetwood boating lake, and we were sat there and I said ‘what did you do during the war?’. He told me he had been called up through the ship having to go to Dunkirk.
“For the four days he was in hell on earth.
“When you think about it, they had no idea they were going to do this. They came home, they loaded their fish, and before they could even tell anyone where they were going they were turned around and set off straight away.
“Once they set off there was no going back.”
George said: “One of the ships steamed right up to the pier under the noses of the Germans and took the Englishmen and Frenchmen that were on the pier.
“You can’t imagine how brave these guys were.”