The path not taken.
- Oct 9, 2009
- Reaction score
The three naval men stood two metres apart as they raised a tot of rum to toast the 'spirit of Dunkirk'
When a group of naval officers realised there were to be no commemorations to mark the 80th anniversary of Dunkirk Captain Sir Robin Knox-Johnston stepped in to hoist an Ensign flag from his home as a way to remember those who had fallen.
The first person to single-handedly circumnavigate the world non-stop, Sir Robin, 81, said that while all plans to celebrate the anniversary of Operation Dynamo - which saw more than 300,000 British and French soldiers rescued from the beaches of Dunkirk between May 26th and June 4th, 1940 - had been cancelled due to coronavirus, it was important the historic event did not go unmarked.
“We should remind the country of the people who saved the lives of more than 300,000 men,” Sir Robin told The Daily Telegraph.
“The whole operation showed the incredible patriotic nature of the British people; all the way from the three Armed Forces that were involved to the men who lent their boats to go get our blokes back.”
Yesterday morning, on what would have been exactly halfway through the battle 80 years ago, Sir Robin was joined beneath his 10ft flag on Portsmouth’s Broad Street by Vice Admiral John McAnally and Captain Bill Oliphant, both of the Royal Naval Association.
Dressed in uniform and stood two metres apart the three naval men raised a tot of rum to toast the “spirit of Dunkirk”.
It was not the usual parades that the men were used to seeing upon a milestone anniversary but, as 75-year-old Vice Admiral McAnally, National President of the association, said, it was “still important to pay our respects”.
“We have a moral debt to acknowledge the sacrifices and heroism to mark those who went before us that enabled us to have the freedoms we have today,” he said.
“I’m glad we’ve been able to commemorate Operation Dynamo, despite the circumstances.”
For Captain Oliphant, 56, the day held a particularly personal sentiment.
It was on this day 80 years ago that the grandfather of his wife wrote home to his family having escaped Dunkirk on a Destroyer.
In a letter seen by The Telegraph James Gilbert, a petrol tanker for the Royal Army Service Cor, wrote on June 2nd, 1940: “I thought that I would never get out of Dunkirk alive.”
He added that as they fled Dunkirk "a big part of it was on fire" and that they had been attacked with “ferry planes bombing and machine gunning us”. “There were thousands of soldiers in the sands,” Mr Gilbert wrote.
“It makes us realise that even when that generation has gone we cannot forget such momentous occasions like this in our history,” Captain Oliphant said.
“This was about toasting the success of Operation Dynamo and paying respect to the memory of those who made the ultimate sacrifice.”