Royal Navy veteran who helped rescue stranded troops in Dunkirk in Second World War tells of relief at finding his brothers in the chaos

Watch more of our videos on Shots! 
and live on Freeview channel 276
Visit Shots! now
A NAVY veteran who helped evacuate scores of British troops stranded on the beaches of Dunkirk 80 years ago has revealed the moment he stumbled into his two brothers in the middle of the chaos.

Portsmouth-born Lawrence Churcher, 99, was in the crew of HMS Eagle during the Second World War when he was deployed to help rescue the British Expeditionary Force in May 1940.

An Allied force of 338,000 men had been driven back to the French town of Dunkirk by a relentless Nazi warmachine and faced being wiped out.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Lawrence, then a 19-year-old sailor, landed in France in May to help get ammunition to the front line and was posted to a railhead outside Dunkirk.

Troops evacuated from Dunkirk arrive in Dover,  May 31 1940.Troops evacuated from Dunkirk arrive in Dover,  May 31 1940.
Troops evacuated from Dunkirk arrive in Dover, May 31 1940. | Other 3rd Party

But as the German stranglehold continued to tighten, he was ordered to pull back to the beach – while British top brass scrambled to requisition any ship or boat from the UK in a hastily-executed evacuation plan.

Remarkably, amid all the carnage, Lawrence was found by his two brothers Edward and George, who were serving with the Hampshire Regiment.

They stayed together until reaching the UK on the same ship but were not reunited until the end of the war.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Speaking of the moment, Lawrence, of Portchester, said: ‘When my brothers found me, I just felt relief. There were so many soldiers there and continuous aircraft dropping bombs and strafing us, I had so many things on my mind until I got on board of our ship. One fella leaned on my shoulder, gave a sigh of relief and said, “thank God we’ve got a navy” and that sort of churned it up inside of me.

Troops pictured evacuating the beaches of Dunkirk for a Royal Navy warship 80 years ago.Troops pictured evacuating the beaches of Dunkirk for a Royal Navy warship 80 years ago.
Troops pictured evacuating the beaches of Dunkirk for a Royal Navy warship 80 years ago. | Other 3rd Party

‘I felt relieved that the soldiers could come on those boats, there was all sorts there, practically rowing boats. We knew we had to get those soldiers back from Dunkirk.’

The veteran’s comments come as the nation marked the 80th anniversary of the evacuation, which took place between May 26 and June 4, 1940.

Lawrence, who served 22 years in the navy and saw action in the Mediterranean, D-Day and the Far East, was invited to an intimate wreath-laying service at the Portsmouth Naval Memorial, in Southsea.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Lieutenant Calvin Shenton organised the service as a friend of Mr Churcher, as well as a padre and a Royal Marines bugler.

Lawrence Churcher, 99, pictured saluting with Lieutenant Calvin Shenton and another supporter Photo: PO Arron HoareLawrence Churcher, 99, pictured saluting with Lieutenant Calvin Shenton and another supporter Photo: PO Arron Hoare
Lawrence Churcher, 99, pictured saluting with Lieutenant Calvin Shenton and another supporter Photo: PO Arron Hoare | Other 3rd Party

The pair were introduced by Age UK Portsmouth six months ago when Lt Shenton volunteered to take part in its Joining Forces befriending scheme for veterans.

Lt Shenton said: ‘I’d planned various activities ahead of Laurie turning 100 in August, and to mark the Dunkirk anniversary I had planned to take him for lunch in the Wardroom so he could talk to other officers, but those plans have had to change and that is where the idea of a wreath-laying came from.

‘It’s great that we were able to celebrate the end of war recently but it’s important to remember today that 80 years ago 338,000 troops needed evacuation from France and there were five more years of hard work ahead of them.’

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

A bugler marked a minute’s silence at 11am, after Lt Shenton laid a wreath on behalf of Mr Churcher at the foot of those plaques which bear the names of men who never returned from Dunkirk.

Lawrence Churcher, 99, pictured saluting with Lieutenant Calvin Shenton (right). Photo: PO Arron HoareLawrence Churcher, 99, pictured saluting with Lieutenant Calvin Shenton (right). Photo: PO Arron Hoare
Lawrence Churcher, 99, pictured saluting with Lieutenant Calvin Shenton (right). Photo: PO Arron Hoare | Other 3rd Party

Commodore David Elford, naval regional commander for the east of England, said: ‘On behalf of the Royal Navy, it is my privilege to convey our sincere thanks and admiration to Mr Churcher as well as to all the veterans of Dunkirk.

‘It is also appropriate to acknowledge all those who continue to care for the remaining ‘little ships’ which made that dangerous and historic voyage 80 years ago.’

A message from the Editor

Thank you for reading this story on portsmouth.co.uk. While I have your attention, I also have an important request to make of you.

With the coronavirus lockdown having a major impact on many of our advertisers - and consequently the revenue we receive - we are more reliant than ever on you taking out a digital subscription.

Subscribe to portsmouth.co.uk and enjoy unlimited access to local news and information online and on our app. With a digital subscription, you can read more than 5 articles, see fewer ads, enjoy faster load times, and get access to exclusive newsletters and content. Visit our Subscription page now to sign up.

Lawrence Churcher laying a wreath in commemoration marking the 80th anniversary of the Dunkirk evacuation. Photo: PO Arron HoareLawrence Churcher laying a wreath in commemoration marking the 80th anniversary of the Dunkirk evacuation. Photo: PO Arron Hoare
Lawrence Churcher laying a wreath in commemoration marking the 80th anniversary of the Dunkirk evacuation. Photo: PO Arron Hoare | Other 3rd Party

Our journalism costs money and we rely on advertising, print and digital revenues to help to support them. By supporting us, we are able to support you in providing trusted, fact-checked content for this website.

Related topics:

Comment Guidelines

National World encourages reader discussion on our stories. User feedback, insights and back-and-forth exchanges add a rich layer of context to reporting. Please review our Community Guidelines before commenting.