Suzanne’s father died recently. He was typical of his generation, in that he fought in World War Two, was shaped by what he saw and carried those beliefs and qualities with him through life. He had a Victorian upbringing, being raised by his great grandparents. His first job as an agricultural worker was sealed with a handshake, and on payday, one year later, he bought a bicycle, a suit, stout boots and a pair of leather gaiters. He never looked back and moved into the railways, eventually becoming an engine driver – a skilled occupation in the days of steam. He once drove the Mallard, but was not sentimental and approved of the move to diesel, with heated cabs and lower maintenance.
On conscription, he became a medical orderly in the RAMC (Royal Army Medical Corps), crossing over to France with the BEF (British Expeditionary Force) and serving with one of the Casualty Clearing Stations*. In common with many veterans of that campaign, he was taciturn about his experiences, telling only a few light-hearted anecdotes.
During the evacuation, one doctor and two orderlies stayed behind with the wounded, the orderlies being selected by drawing paper slips out of a hat. Albert was one of the two. At the last moment, they were released from their duties in the CCS by the doctor before the station was captured to find their way to Bray Dunes.
This story from 12th CCS may give a flavour of the last few days of the evacuation: http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/ww2peopleswar/stories/15/a2310715.shtml
WW2 People’s War is an online archive of wartime memories contributed by members of the public and gathered by the BBC. The archive can be found at bbc.co.uk/ww2peopleswar’
During one of the many air-raids on the beach he leapt into a shell crater, to find his Uncle Jim already there.** Jim’s mates were on their way to Dunkirk, but Albert reasoned that he stood a better chance at Bray Dunes. Contemporary photographs show orderly lines of men waiting to be evacuated. Albert told a story of finding three Norton motorcycles, still in their crates, so he and his mate decided to race them up and down the beach, eventually running them into the sea to deny them to the enemy. It was not until recently, when Suzanne was watching a documentary about Dunkirk that she heard a naval officer describe, in puzzled tones, two motorcycles racing up and down to no apparent purpose.
Albert was scheduled to be posted to North Africa, having returned to the UK (uneventfully if you were to believe his telling of it), when it was realised that he was a railwayman. He spent the rest of the war steaming up and down from the coalfields of the North to the steel mills in the Midlands carrying coal for the war industry, mostly at night.
I knew Albert as a quiet, considerate man who was not one for dwelling on the past. His passion was gardening, with a deft touch for chrysanthemums. He was a gentleman who is survived by his two daughters, Anne and Suzanne, and his son, Brian.
*I have been unable to ascertain which one. It may have been 17th. I do not believe it to have been the 10th at Lille, or 12th. 11th is still in the frame but Suzanne thinks it may have been 6th or 7th.
**Together with a large number of cigarettes that the NAAFI, apparently, had no further use for. Jim too found his way back. The cigarettes did not.