Not just a triumphant retreat; Tomorrow sees the anniversary of the Dunkirk Evacuation. In a new book Hugh Sebag-Montefiore, the cousin of the former Bishop of Birmingham, the Rt Rev Hugh Montefiore, recounts the efforts of the brave men who made it possible.
Sergeant Moore and Sergeant-Major Augustus Jennings knew it was the end the moment the grenades rolled in.
The SS had herded 90 of the Royal Warwick Regiment soldiers into a barn in a village just outside Dunkirk and, not satisfied the stick grenades they had hurled in had done the job, were bringing the men out five at a time to shoot them.
Some of the victims, grievously wounded, begged others to help hobble them outside, so they could be dispatched first.
But not surprisingly, others were refusing to come out, an act of defiance which infuriated the blood-crazed Himmler-trained SS. They rushed inside in a frenzy, firing machine guns and hurling grenades.
But Moore and Jennings were not going to die without trying to save as many of their comrades as they could.
In his new chronicle about the men who sacrificed their lives to secure the famous victory of the little boats, historian Hugh Sebag-Montefiore records what happened next.
"On seeing the first grenades thrown into the barn, Sergeant Moore and Sergeant Major Augustus Jennings had pounced on to them, either hoping to pick them up and throw them back at their captors, or perhaps intending to sacrifice their own lives in order to shield their men from the blast.
"They were exhibiting bravery that went so far beyond the call of duty, that no one who witnessed their action could have denied that their valour matched that exhibited by other British Expeditionary Forces soldiers who won the the Victoria Cross.
"Unfortunately, the explosion, which killed each of them instantly, would have made both VCs posthumous."
It was largely because the efforts of so many of the BEF had gone unheralded - like Moore and Jennings - that Sebag-Montefiore set about writing Dunkirk' Fight to the Last Man.
To this day, no one knows the full carnage at Dunkirk. But one estimate is that 11,014 were killed or died later of their wounds, about 14,000 were wounded and 41,338 were either missing or taken as PoWs.
Each chapter of the book recounts different battles at the chain of strongpoints around Dunkirk and the corridor down which the Allied soldiers were retreating.
Sebag-Montefiore scoured the country looking for surviving soldiers, contacting regiments and spending two years putting adverts in newspapers. The book took five long years to complete.
"Most of the good accounts have come from people who are not around any more," he said. "When you speak to them they feel they were a tiny cog in the war and just did their duty."
Dunkirk: To the Last Man is published by Penguin and costs pounds 25
Captain Edward Jerram of the Royal Warwick Regiment, who went on to become a colonel as pictured - his account of the horrors of war are outlined in Dunkirk' Fight to the Last Man, written by Hugh Sebag-Montefiore
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|Publication:||The Birmingham Post (England)|
|Date:||May 27, 2006|
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