DUNKIRK veteran 98-year-old Alfred Smith joined VIPs at the premiere of the new film based on the famous Second World War evacuation.
Alfred, who arrived in the French commune on his 21st birthday 77 years ago, attended the star-studded premiere of Dunkirk, which portrays the ordeal faced by more than 330,000 allied soldiers trying to escape the advancing German army.
Thirty Dunkirk veterans were invited to the first look of the British-made movie and walked down the red carpet wearing their medals to rounds of applause from the crowd for their honourable service.
A member of the SSAFA Southend Veterans’ Club, Alfred is one of the only veterans who was involved in the Dunkirk evacuation and was also deployed to Normandy for the D-Day landings during the Second World War.
The Dunkirk evacuation took place after large numbers of Allied troops were cut off and surrounded by the German Army during the Battle of France. The British blockbuster focuses on the evacuation and the lives of the men on the beach and in the air, as well as the civilians who sailed their private boats to Dunkirk on a rescue mission.
Talking about his experience at Dunkirk, Alfred said: “I was driving an Army lorry in France and my job was to supply troops with everything they needed, which made us a constant target for the Germans.
“On 24 May 1940, my 21st birthday, I drove around a bend and the road was completely blocked by a bombed railway bridge. We thought we should find another way round but someone came over the bank with a revolver in his hand. I grabbed my rifle but then realised it was a British officer. He said in case you don’t know, you are surrounded so make for the beach.
“I drove back to where our company was but they had already gone so I then drove for two days with no sleep and we eventually arrived at Dunkirk. We had to blow the lorries up so the Germans could not use them and then we sat on the flat beach for 48 hours waiting to get off. Planes kept coming over machine-gunning and bombing us and lots of my friends were killed because there was nowhere to hide.”
Speaking of the film, Alfred added: “I thought it was pretty accurate – there were a couple of faults but minor ones. I’ve enjoyed myself very much indeed. “
Alfred joined SSAFA’s Southend Veterans’ Club – a weekly lunch for ex-Servicemen and women – after his wife Betty died.
He said: “I’ve met some lovely new people. I didn’t know anybody when I first went and now everyone says hello when I get there. I even had lots of cards and a cake on my birthday!”
For details of SSAFA in your area, visit www.ssafa.org.uk/help-you/veterans