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Books: Dunkirk's forgotten heroes; Dunkirk: Fight to the Last Man by Hugh Sebag-Montefiore (Viking, pounds 25).

DESCRIBED by Winston Churchill as a miracle of deliverance, the evacuation of British troops from Dunkirk in 1940 is one of the best-known episodes in history.

The bravery of all those who sailed to France to rescue the British Army is particularly celebrated. Yet, as Hugh Sebag-Montefiore reveals, the rescue was not just about what happened on the beaches and at sea' his book makes it clear that the evacuation would never have succeeded had it not been for the tenacity of the British soldiers - like members of the Royal Warwickshire Regiment - who remained behind to fight on while the rest of the Army retreated.

Their job was to shield the corridor down which the rest of the Army was retreating to Dunkirk by holding a series of strongpoints (key towns and villages), and they were not to give way until they had fired their last bullet. They were to fight to the last man.

Hardly any of those brave men made it back to the beaches or the Dunkirk "mole". Most were either killed or captured at their posts. They are the forgotten heroes of Dunkirk, and it is their valiant exploits which form the core of this book.

Using new material from British, French, Belgian, German, Russian and Czechoslovakian archives, and interviews with the last surviving witnesses of the Dunkirk campaign, Sebag-Montefiore has describes the above and many other little-known or previously undiscovered aspects of the Dunkirk story, including:

The torment endured by British soldiers on the Dunkirk perimeter - based on accounts by those who fought there and survived to tell their tale.

Blow-by-blow accounts of the Royal Norfolks' last stand at Le Paradis, one of the villages held by British troops protecting the corridor to Dunkirk - written by three officers who escaped from the clutches of SS before the remaining prisoners-of-war were massacred.

How the British garrison at Cassel, another strongpoint, warded off German attacks for three days - according to a series of reports by British soldiers.

The murderous German attacks on civilians in Vinkt, Belgium, which were referred to by the prosecutor at the 1948 war crimes trial as "the Vinkt massacres".

Dunkirk: Fight To The Last Man does not just cover the evacuation from Dunkirk. It explains why it was necessary in the first place, and shows how the British Expeditionary Force and our allies were outmanoeuvred by the Germans.

The book also describes what happened after the evacuation - including a vivid account of the attempt to rescue the 51st Highland Division from St Valery, before concluding with the evacuation of the 2nd BEF, and the sinking of the troop ship Lancastria off St Nazaire two weeks after the end of the Dunkirk evacuation with about 3,000 BEF soldiers, making it Britain's biggest maritime disaster.

CAPTION(S):

WADING TO SAFETY... British troops leave the beaches of Dunkirk and make for the boats waiting to take them back to Britain.
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Coventry Evening Telegraph (England)
Date:Jun 10, 2006
Words:485
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