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'I've come to rescue you': My grandfather at Dunkirk

From BBC - August 11, 2017

I went to see the film Dunkirk because of my grandfather, Guy Farrer. He was one of the volunteers who went over to rescue British and French troops from the beaches. He did not talk about it much but he wrote an account of his experiences. This is his story...

In May 1940, Guy Farrer found himself approaching the beaches of Dunkirk in a small open boat. One of the trawlers in his convoy had just hit a mine and had "gone up in a shattering explosion".

In the mist, it took him a little while to make out the thousands of soldiers sitting on the beach.

The task he had been given struck him as "crazy".

"Fancy trying to evacuate a whole army from a shallow beach with the aid of paddle steamers and sailing barges!"

And things got crazier when he tried to persuade the soldiers to get on his boat.

I lowered myself into the gentle surf and climbed up the beach into France. I approached the nearest group of soldiers, some of whom were playing cards.

"I have come to rescue you," I said modestly.

"Say that again, mate," said the corporal.

"I have come to take you off," I announced.

"Where to, mate?" asked the corporal. He sounded suspicious.

"To England."

"How we going to get there, mate?" asked the corporal.

I took a deep breath. "We are going by boat We are unable to bring the boats any closer because the water is too shallow. You will therefore have to wade out to them. When we have a full complement of troops in the boats, we will row you out to the trawlers which are waiting to take you back to England. Is that clear?"

The corporal looked out to sea.

"I do not see no trawlers and I do not see no boats."

I looked behind me. The mist had thickened. There were no boats of any description visible.

At the time of Dunkirk, Guy Farrer was 29 years old and a civilian.

He had only got involved in the evacuation operation because he was taking a course with a yacht chandler named Capt OM Watts, in Albemarle Street, London.

A keen sailor, Guy was preparing for his Yachtmaster's certificate exam, so that he could join the Navy as an officer.

During the class, the telephone rang.

Capt Watts excused himself and was away for quite a time.

'That was the Admiralty,' he told us when he returned. "They are requisitioning anything that will float and are asking everyone who can handle a boat to help take the troops off the Dunkirk beaches. I have been asked to appeal for volunteers. Any takers?"

A ripple of excitement flowed through the room. There were about 30 of us, all youngsters. "When do we go?" said one, reaching for his bowler hat.

They were told to assemble in the City at 8pm that evening. There was not time to go home, so they went to a pub.

"We laughed and joked like a bunch of rugger supporters on their way to Twickenham," Guy wrote.

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