Tears on the beaches; DUNKIRK REMEMBERED.
These are men who witnessed atrocities, watching friends and comrades die near these shores.
Even those who are close to them can never fully understand what they have lived with for more than half a century.
Bill Harvey, from Coventry, walks along the sand with his son Harvey, showing him the very place where he dug a hole to sleep while he waited for a rescuing ship.
Bill, now aged 80, had fought non-stop for three weeks to get this far and says: "We had three weeks of action and we were very tired and hungry when we got here.
"This is exactly where I was and I did not think I would ever step on this beach again.
"I was 20 then and I didn't think I would see 21 - I thought it was the end."
But a passing destroyer picked Bill and his crew up as they dodged a rain of German bombs, and the small company stuck together in the bowels of the ship as they sailed to safety across the Channel.Bill said: "Then they handed out mugs of cocoa and that's when I knew I was going home."
His son, who now lives in Somerset, said: "It is very special for me to be here with dad this time, for the final time. I can't believe I have learnt more about what happened to him recently than I have ever known.
"It helps me to understand him better - they all have such incredible stories which deserve to be told."
Jim McKittrick bends down to scoop up handfuls of sand off the beaches where hundreds of thousands of soldiers waited for their deliverance.
The sand dunes stretch for miles to the north, to De Panne and the coast of Flanders which claimed countless lives.
Jim, who was just 18 when he was plucked from the beach, has collected the sand on every Dunkirk pilgrimage since 1972.
He said: "I keep it to sprinkle on the graves of any Dunkirk veteran who dies."
Fellow veteran Leslie Haymes remembers arriving back on British soil: "When we got into Plymouth you would have thought we had won the war - they were shouting and cheering us, giving us fags and cups of tea."
Les, aged 88, of Styvechale, went on to service in India, Burma, and the Middle East.
He says: "I buried more than a few people in those years and sometimes I don't want to remember it.
"War is a terrible thing and I hope your generation does not see another one."
Union Jacks, stringed across the streets of Dunkirk with tricoleurs and the flags of other Allied nations, welcome the veterans back to the town for one last memorial trip.
It is hard to believe that 60 years ago the very men who wear ribbons of medals proudly on their chests were fighting for their lives.
Gil Pearson, the 81-year-old chairman of the Coventry Dunkirk Veterans' Association, shakes his head as he stands in Jean Bart Square, saying: "It was all on fire when I came through this square towards the beach. You would never know it today."
Laughter rings through the air as the veterans swap stories and tease each other.But there are poignant reminders of the years that have passed - the old soldier who pushes his friend in a wheelchair along the promenade, and arms that reach out to steady old legs.
The men remember not only the comrades who never made it to Dunkirk, and those who died in the five years of fighting which followed, but also the fellow soldiers who have died more recently, as the number of Dunkirk veterans decreases year by year.
Tom Flowers, from Coventry, smiles as his friends tease him about his jaunty regimental dicky bow, but his eyes fill with tears as he explains it once belonged to the late chairman of the Coventry Dunkirk Veterans' Association Frank Smith.
Tom, who is now 81, said: "Frank's wife Joan came up to me a couple of weeks ago and asked me if I would like to wear Frank's tie.
"I told her it would be an honour and I am wearing this for him - I wish he could be here to wear it himself."
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|Publication:||Coventry Evening Telegraph (England)|
|Date:||Jun 5, 2000|
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