World War 2 Stories for Sheffield

                          John Pressley 

Extract from 'The Gallant 9th - But Don’t Eat Bananas'

By Actiondesk Sheffield

People in story: John Pressley
Location of story: The beach at Dunkirk 1940
Background to story: Army


Extract from “The Gallant 9th - but don’t eat Bananas”

By John Pressley

The beach at Dunkirk 1940

Had we but known that this was to be our last night on the beaches, we might have been in better spirits. As it was, what spirits we had left had hit rock bottom. We were cold, wet, hungry and miserable. The fine drizzle that had started around midnight had settled into a steady downpour. In near desperation we crowded under the trees for shelter, but they only provided a temporary respite. Soon the raindrops were pinging on our tin hats and trickles of water started to run down our necks. Slowly we became soaked. Even to light a cigarette became an effort. Just before dawn, when the human body is at its lowest ebb, a solitary shot rang out followed by silence, a silence broken by our stuttering sentry from Abbeydale Park, his, "I'll-l-l b-b-bet tba-ats s-some b-b-b-ugger b-rowned off!" caused a merry laugh.

Dawn broke and with it the rain stopped but left in its wake, banks of low lying grey clouds. These were to prove a godsend to us, for they interfered with the Stukas. Our breakfast, a couple of 'dog biscuits' and a swig of water, had barely settled before things started happening. They happened in the shape of a naval Petty Officer who had been sent to organize us for evacuation. He was a young fresh faced lad, who entered into the spirit of things with the enthusiasm of a Rover Scout. His first jubilant effort was with a rowing boat, which he had found at the foot of the dunes. It was a big 'un, but someone had staved in the sides. This little matter didn't put our eager beaver lad off, no Sir, he had us rustle up empty petrol tins and stuff them under the seats. That done, he scrounged a long length of rope, tied it to the bows and then got about forty of us to pull it out to sea. This was no small feat, for the beach shelved so gently, then we'd about a quarter of a mile to pull the damn thing. It wasn't so bad over the dry sand, but when we hit the wet we stuck. Pulling and panting, as only desperate men can, we still couldn't budge the blasted thing. Then it was that we spotted two of our highest ranking officers, still 'with their swagger canes, watching our futile performance. Boy, the language they got hurled at them as they were cordially invited to participate in the saving of their own skin - even the Petty Officer blushed - but they pulled'.

Eventually we met the sea, pushed the boat out and it floated.

“Right lads,” called the Petty Officer, “swimmers only please.” Just my flaming luck, I couldn't swim, still orders is orders and I and the other non-swimmers stood back while the swimmers got aboard. The Petty Officer put a young Corporal in charge of the craft and off they went, with the Corporal shouting the stroke as good as any Oxford cox. With a will, his crew responded, who wouldn't for salvation. We on the shore watched with misty eyes as they drew away towards the waiting line of destroyers. All went well until they were about three hundred yards out, then we saw a fountain of water spurt up from the centre of the boat and with a `bulp-bulp' it sank. It looked so funny that we all had to laugh, for it was just like a Max Sennett comedy. Back to shore swam our gallant rowers, the first to reach land was our Corporal, a gallant figure as he marched up the beach with water spurting from his gaitored ankles. With Aldershot precision he marched up to the Petty Officer, threw him a classic salute, and in a parade ground - voice asked, "Have you any more f***ing good ideas, Sir?" Even the Petty Officer had to laugh.