Tributes to the last man home from Dunkirk

Second World War veteran William Lacey from Portchester
Second World War veteran William Lacey from Portchester
Royal Navy and Royal Marines Charity regional fundraiser Hilary Jukes and eEngineering technician (marine engineering) Charlie Brooks

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TRIBUTES have been paid to a Second World War veteran who became famous as the last man home from Dunkirk.

Bill Lacey, of Portchester, spent four months behind enemy lines after he gave up his place on a rescue ship to an injured comrade.

William Lacey in 1939

William Lacey in 1939

He died aged 91 on June 10 following a stroke. The funeral will be at Portchester Crematorium on Monday.

His son Richard, 65, said: ‘I’m very proud of my dad. His was a life very much lived to the full.

‘He was very much his own man and everyone who met him was endeared to him. He will be sorely missed.’

More than 300,000 British troops were rescued by the ‘little ships’ in the historic wartime evacuation.

But the 20-year-old soldier ended up living rough on the run from German patrols in France after he gave up his space on the rescue ship.

In an interview last year, he said: ‘I watched the last of the little ships sailing away without me, and I knew there was no hope that there would be any more coming back.

‘I had climbed on to a boat. Then a wounded casualty had to be taken on board, so I got off to make room for him. When I turned round the boat was going. I was stranded.’

The soldier survived by stealing food from French farmhouses.

He eventually stole a boat and single-handedly sailed back across the English Channel – only to be arrested as a suspected spy when he got to Britain.

His grandson Dan, 39, said: ‘Our grandfather’s amazing story of survival in Dunkirk is one of inspiration to all his family. To us he will always be a true hero.’

Intelligence officers released Rifleman Lacey, whose survival earned him a job in the special forces.

He took part in operations around the world – including one mission to capture a German general in Jersey, which ended with him being shot and wounded.

He recovered and was stationed in Portsmouth in the early 1960s. He retired as a Sergeant in 1964 and settled in Portchester working as a postman.

Little was known about his dramatic story until he appeared in a TV documentary in 2000. He then became known as the last man home from Dunkirk.

He married Ellen in 1944 and had one son with her. She died of cancer in 1974. A second marriage at the age of 70 ended in divorce. He is survived by his son, Richard, three grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren.