Royal Navy join tribute to Dunkirk rescue operation

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The Royal Navy will join veterans of one of the most famous rescue missions of the Second World War in Dunkirk today to remember fallen comrades.

The former soldiers, now in their 90s, will gather at the British Memorial at the Dunkirk Military Cemetery in the French port town to pay tribute to the friends they lost 75 years ago.

The Royal Navy joined the flotilla of 'little ships' which sailed from Kent to Dunkirk for the commemorations. Picture: Royal Navy

The Royal Navy joined the flotilla of 'little ships' which sailed from Kent to Dunkirk for the commemorations. Picture: Royal Navy

In late May and early June of 1940, between 300,000 and 400,000 British, French and Belgian troops were evacuated from the beaches as they fled the relentless German advance towards the coast.

The daring rescue - dubbed Operation Dynamo - was an overwhelming success, but there were also around 90,000 left dead, wounded or taken prisoner.

Yesterday Her Majesty’s Ships Trumpeter and Ranger joined a flotilla of around 50 “little ships” - the small boats that were instrumental in saving so many lives - that sailed from Ramsgate in Kent to Dunkirk for the commemorations of the 75th anniversary of their famous escapade.

Among them was Michael Bentall, 94, who had come over from Ontario in Canada for the event.

In 1940 he was a young soldier in the 4th Battalion, Royal Berkshire Regiment, and found himself forced to march almost 120 miles to the beaches near Dunkirk to escape the German advance, eventually finding a rowing boat and being picked up by a navy ship.

He said: “I didn’t come here because I was feeling I had to come because of myself, it was for the chaps that I was with.

“It was fate. I don’t know how I escaped. It was a miracle, and today I really don’t believe I am here.”

Mr Bentall, who was born in Brighton and is a grandfather of six, added: “I feel very lucky that I managed to get away in one sense, but I am also sad that I lost so many friends, pals and comrades. I don’t understand how I have lived so long.”

A series of events is planned around Dunkirk to commemorate the evacuations.

The main event to mark the historic rescue mission will be tomorrow, when an official service will take place at the Allied Beach Memorial.

Later that day there will be a parade of military vehicles and bands through the streets of Dunkirk.

On Sunday a memorial plaque will be unveiled at the site of the MV Crested Eagle, a paddle steamer which was attacked and sank with 300 soldiers on board.

There will also be a commemorative service for the Association of Dunkirk Little Ships on the quayside in Dunkirk next to the little ships themselves.