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My lucky escape as a ship of 9,000 sank; DUNKIRK REMEMBERED.

ON day four of our look at the heroic rescue of 340,000 British and allied troops from the strafed beaches of northern France, feature writer ALISON McCONKEY talks to more veterans about their memories of the remarkable retreat.

HE had come out of the army in 1936 having served five years, but was called back into the field just weeks before war broke out.

Many of the haunting memories of Dunkirk have faded with time for Leslie Haymes, a trooper with the 2nd battalion in the Royal Tank Regiment, who will be 89 in a few weeks.One thing he will never forget is witnessing the sinking of a ship with some 9,000 men aboard within minutes of boarding one himself.

"I dimly remember getting near to Dunkirk. We were told to get there as quick as we could in our own way.

"I took a motor cycle. I picked a passenger up and I rode up to the docks and then put the motor cycle in the pond to get rid of it.

"I remember the beaches being covered with men.

"Believe me, I was the luckiest person to be picked up and taken off the beach.

"Within five minutes of me getting on a ship, this boat was sunk.

"It had 9,000 men on it. I landed at Plymouth with some of the survivors.

"I am really lucky to have survived.''

'It was just every man for himself'

JIM McKITTRICK was just 18 when he went to France with the 8th Belfast Heavy Anti-Aircraft Regiment Royal Artillery Supplementary Reserve.

He was among a thousand volunteers who joined up to defend Belfast. When war was declared four months later, they were sent to England and France. He didn't see Belfast again for seven years.

Jim, now 78, is secretary of the Coventry branch and lives in the city.

"I was 18 when I went to France. Seven months we were there. It was a doddle and then all of a sudden the war started.

"These Stukka bombers were coming in. We opened up everything we had got and they veered off, but an hour later we had orders to move out and head for Dunkirk.

"There was one gun we could not get out because the gun-towing vehicle had broken down.

"I was a dispatch rider at the time. We had to stop behind and blow up the gun. In the meantime, the convoy had moved out. That's where the dive bombers machine-gunned and killed the refugees on the road. They were all lying there dead and wounded.

"It was every man for himself. We didn't know what was going on. I got home. That was the main thing.''
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Title Annotation:Features
Author:McConkey, Alison
Publication:Coventry Evening Telegraph (England)
Date:Jun 1, 2000
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